Iowa: Searching for the Third Run

Jonathan Daniel

2013 is about Kirk Ferentz building for another run at a BCS game or a Big Ten Championship.

2013 isn't about rebounding from Iowa's worst season since the turn of the century. It isn't about validating the hire of Greg Davis or discovering an offensive identity. It's about Kirk Ferentz showing college football that he has a third run in him. Since the 2010 Orange Bowl win the Hawkeyes have been on a downward trajectory that climaxed with (we hope) a 4-8 bottoming out last season. Now, with new quarterback Jake Rudock taking the reins, Ferentz must maneuver his team through a difficult schedule and develop some inexperienced players to not only make 2013 about the present but also about the future.

I. Case History & Opening Statement

A. Case History

Kirk Ferentz's accolades are fading with each passing year of mediocrity. Since the Orange Bowl win the Hawkeyes are 18-18 (8-14) and 2012 included such lowlights as a humiliating loss to Central Michigan, the first loss to Iowa State at Kinnick Stadium since Seneca Wallace played football, an absolute pantsing by Michigan and losses to "those Indiana teams." The failures of last season are often pinned on Greg Davis' horizontal offense, James Vandenberg's inability to grasp that offense and AIRBHG taking its usual toll on the backfield. In reality, it's a combination of all those things. A "systematic failure" if you will.

Make no qualms about it: Iowa's offense was atrocious last season. They ranked 101st in rushing offense, 99th in passing offense, 114th in total offense and 111th in scoring offense. James Vandenberg somehow went from throwing 25 touchdowns in 2011 to throwing 11. The wide-receivers' total production dropped by nearly 1,000 yards. There was no 1,000 yard rusher. It was a dumpster fire.

Those of you who didn't watch the games (I don't blame you, they were hard to watch) probably blamed Greg Davis. And yes, definitely blame Greg Davis. But there was also something legitimately wrong with James Vandenberg. He was one-hopping simple out patterns, grossly overthrowing down the field and locking on to wide-receivers. It didn't look like he had a grasp on the system. Nor did his wide-receivers. Things got really bad when Mark Weisman suffered an ankle injury in final moments against Michigan State, an injury that seemed to bother him throughout the remainder of the season. Things got even worse when starting guard Andrew Donnal and starting tackle Brandon Scherff were lost for the season against Penn State. How much did those losses mean to Iowa? In an excellent piece by Iowa savant Adam Jacobi, he notes:

Through the games of October 13, Iowa was rushing for 154.7 yards per game, which isn't world-class but at least gets you through a game. After Scherff and Donnal went out, the running game went kaput; Iowa averaged just 91.2 yards per game in the last half of the season.

This wasn't just a matter of Iowa abandoning the run post-injury, either. Iowa rushed the ball 34.5 times per game for 4.48 ypc in the first six games. Last six: 32.8 rushes per game, 2.78 yards per rush. That's a 1.7 ypc dropoff, and that is utterly catastrophic when you don't have a passing game to fall back on.

Those are some telling statistics. I calculated that Iowa was averaging 171 rushing YPG prior to the Penn State meeting. Following Penn State, they averaged 115 YPG. That's an astounding drop off.

So there you have it. A devastated rushing attack combined with a non-existent passing game equals a six game losing streak and Iowa fans calling for Kirk Ferentz's/Greg Davis'/Sally Mason's/REDACTED's/etc. etc. etc's head. Yet, aside from some new position coaches, the song remained the same and no one had their head placed on a stake. That should bring us up to speed.

B. Opening Statement

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: his name is Jake Rudock. Iowa's newly tabbed starting quarterback is a redshirt sophomore who has never taken a snap. Yes, you heard me correctly. Despite being Iowa's backup quarterback for the entirety of last season he never set foot on the field. Actually, no quarterback other than James Vandenberg ever set foot on the field and that's perplexing but we'll save that WTF discussion for another time. Rudock is so unfamiliar to fans and analysts that we've resorted to generic terms regarding his abilities: decent arm; smart player; not mistake prone; great size at 6'3, 205; a real lunch pail guy; can throw a football over them mountains; etc.

Rudock is the most obvious choice because he is the safest choice. He's been with the program the longest, has the most experience with the Davis system and has a rapport with the wide-receivers. While the obvious negative is that he has absolutely no game-time experience, Rudock has the advantage of not having to unlearn and relearn an offensive scheme in around six months. James Vandenberg didn't have that luxury.

Rudock will also have a full stable of running backs at his disposal along with a healthy offensive line. The aforementioned Scherff and Donnal are back, though Donnal has been replaced by sophomore Jordan Walsh at right guard. Weisman, Bullock and Canzeri return at tailback and the Hawkeyes have six other running backs on their roster in anticipation of some AIRBHG wrath. There is some experience returning at wide-receiver with Kevonte Martin-Manley, Don Shumpert and Jordan Cotton, though the fans are waiting on an explosive playmaker to emerge. JUCO transfer Damond Powell just might be that guy.

The tight-ends are massive...but have been for some time. We're waiting for C.J. Fiedorowicz to break out and have the "4-star" season that we've been expecting for years. As he's a senior, there's no better time than now. Forgotton behind Fiedorowicz is another skilled tight-end, Ray Hamilton. The talent is there. We just need a quarterback to get them the ball and the tight-ends not to fall down when approached threateningly by a cornerback.

The biggest question on defense is: can the Hawkeyes get pressure on the quarterback. On last night's BTN preview the anchors pointed out that Iowa was dead last in sacks and tackles for loss last season. The line is made up of "high motor" guys...and 6'5, 315lb Carl Davis. Many have said that this may be Carl's breakout year. One can only hope.

Iowa has zero problems at linebacker, returning three starters in Christian Kirksey, James Morris and Anthony Hitchens. The defensive backfield returns a couple "starters" but the biggest problems are at safety. Free safety Tanner Miller frequently found himself out of position last year (he got torched) and I've never seen strong safety John Lowdermilk actually make a play. Lots of guys need to step it up on defense. The theme for 2013 is: the talent is there...but will it show?

II. Discovery

A. What We Learned This Offseason:

2013 Iowa Cocktail Party Preview

Iowa's Newest Guys in the Room

This is About the Future

SHAMELESS PLUG ABOUT IOWA OTE SHIRTS

B. What We Can Learn From Pop Culture

Communication Breakdown, It's always the same,

I'm having a nervous breakdown, Drive me insane!

3rd and 7...4 yard out. 4th and 2...quarterback rolls out and throws ball away. 2nd and 8...4-wide deep pass. It was always the same last year and it never worked. Maybe we can get rid of some of the breakdowns between the quarterback and wide-receivers in 2013.

III. Emotional Plea

Ladies and gentlemen, it will get better. Iowa's most difficult task this offseason was finding someone to replace James Vandenberg. They've done that. The weaknesses of Rudock can be made up by the experience at running back and the strength of the offensive line. The "lack of explosiveness" at wide-receiver is compensated by the talent and size of the tight-ends. The question marks at defensive end are answered by the three senior linebackers. The issues in the secondary are well...let's just hope those issues work themselves out quickly.

Kirk Ferentz's time at Iowa has been defined by the Big Ten Championships in the early aughts and the Outback Bowl/Orange Bowl wins of 2009-2010. The dark ages of 1999-2000 and 2006-2007 preceded those periods of success and elation. The past two seasons have been dark for Hawkeye fans and they hit rock bottom last season. One thing Iowa fans had become accustomed to was Ferentz's teams improving as the year went on...but that certainly didn't happen in 2012.

And like I said, it was a systematic failure. There was no singular root cause to the problems. This season is a fresh slate for Ferentz. He has new coaches, talented young players and a green quarterback. Outsiders and "experts" are claiming that Iowa is trending down as a program and has been for some time. As skeptical as I am about Ferentz, I simply don't believe that he's phoning it in. He's very aware of the criticism he faces as Iowa's highest paid state employee and the fanaticism of the fanbase that fills Kinnick every Saturday. He's hoping, planning and preparing for that third run at a BCS game or a Big Ten Championship. And while he's certainly not going to accomplish it in 2013, he's building for it in the immediate future.

IV. Verdict (Staff Predictions)

As expected, the predictions are all over the board. No one knows what to expect from Iowa. I feel that the realistic cap for the program is 6-7 wins and Jon, Jesse, Jeff and Cory are in agreement. The non-conference schedule isn't exactly easy with NIU coming to Kinnick and a trip to Iowa State in the first three weeks of the season. They also have to travel to TCF Bank (where they've never won), Ohio State (where it seems like they've never won) and UNL's Memorial Stadium (sigh). Fortunately, they get Northwestern, Wisconsin and Michigan at home...so I guess that's a positive.

It appears Aaron and Chris are not so bullish, expecting the Hawkeyes to win zero conference games and go 2-10. Well...at least it's not 1-11.

Writer

Prediction

Jon

6-6 (2-6)

Jesse

6-6 (3-5)

Jeff

6-6 (3-5)

Graham

4-8 (1-7)

Hilary

3-9 (0-8)

Ted

3-9 (1-7)

Chad

5-7 (2-6)

Cory

6-6 (3-5)

Mike

6-6 (3-5)

Brian

4-8 (2-6)

Chris

2-10 (0-8)

Aaron

2-10 (0-8)

OTE STAFF AVERAGE:

4-8 (2-6)

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