The Hawkeyes don’t have a game this weekend, but that doesn’t mean the team has the week off. Four coordinators met with media on Wednesday. Here are the main takeaways from what they had to say.
1. The offense is using the week to re-evaluate several things
The Hawkeyes are coming off of their worst offensive showing of the season, and they know it.
“Very disappointing performance, really in all facets for us offensively,” offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said.
Overall, the Hawkeyes rank towards the bottom of the conference in several offensive categories, including last in total offense. Part of the reason for that is that they’re also only averaging 3.1 yards per carry, which is second worst in the Big Ten, only in front of Purdue. That’s at the top of their list of things to look at during the bye week.
“If we’re going to play winning football, we’re going to play that complementary football, we need to be running the ball extremely effectively, because it takes the pressure off of everything else,” Ferentz said. “You have to fall back on fundamentals and you have to get back to the basics.”
Another part is they haven’t been able to get their playmakers the ball much, Tyrone Tracy in particular. There was plenty of excitement about him coming into the season, because of what he could do with the ball in hands. So far this season, he hasn’t touched the ball much at all. He’s only gotten the ball 18 times, totaling 111 yards.
“Some of the best things he does are with the ball in his hands,” Ferentz said. “Can you get him in space? Can you get him in a place where he can make some plays? And we’re going to continue to try to do that.”
Despite the offense’s struggles, Ferentz has been pleased with the play of quarterback Spencer Petras. That’s not to say it’s been perfect though.
“Here’s the reality, when there’s makeable throws and we don’t make them, that is his responsibility,” Ferentz said. “We can protect him better. We can get open for him better.”
He also acknowledges his role in the struggles.
“As a playcaller, the first thing you do is look in the mirror,” Ferentz said.
It seems he’s done that and found some things, so expect some changes the next time the Hawkeye offense has the ball.
“Can you affect the defense in other ways?” Ferentz said. “You feel like Michael Scott doing his magic tricks, but sometimes some sleight of hand stuff can help. So you’re looking at all those things and you’re just trying to figure out, can we do what we do the absolute best, in a better way? Or can we make it look a little bit different so we can keep doing it without them knowing what we’re doing?”
2. Complementary is key
It’s one of many constants about Iowa Football.
“If we’re going to have a good football team, if we’re going to win football games the way we’re built, we need to play off of each other,” Ferentz said.
But it’s something all the coaches said was missing on Saturday.
“It’s very difficult if you get no turnovers to help your offense,” defensive coordinator Phil Parker said.
They pointed to the Maryland game, arguably the best game for all three phases. Ferentz said he thought “maybe the defense was bleeding a little bit” after Maryland marched down the field to take a 7-3 lead. So his unit responded with a touchdown drive of their own to retake the lead.
“We were able to right the ship steady, go down and score,” Ferentz said. “And then one thing leads to another.”
A fumble recovery by special teams leads to another touchdown. Then the defense forces turnovers on three of the next four drives, leading to more points.
There was none of that against Purdue. The defense couldn’t get off the field. They did create one turnover, but the offense couldn’t convert that. They also got good returns from Charlie Jones and Ivory Kelly-Martin on special teams, and still no points to be found.
“Those are the situations where we need to come up with something, and we didn’t,” Ferentz said. “
3. It’s back to the basics for the defense
Defense has been Iowa’s calling card all year. They’ve been feared and for good reason. They’ve limited some of the country’s best weapons and have sat good QBs on the bench consistently. What happened against Purdue?
“We gave up three explosive plays and then we gave up probably seven big plays, and that’s between 15 and 20 [yards],” Parker said. “That’s not who we are.”
For Parker, there’s a simple explanation.
“We’ve got to be more exact in what we do,” Parker said. “They’ve got to get back to fundamentals. Was it your technique? Was this something that maybe in the past was out there that nobody saw before in the first six games. There’s probably some technique being detailed in the first six games that maybe we got away with.”
4. The unsung hero of special teams
Tory Taylor has quickly become a fan favorite in Iowa City and the whole staff has said they’ve thought of Caleb Shudak as a starter for years now. While they get all the headlines, one man is the glue behind the scenes: backup punter Ryan Gersonde.
“The one thing in our specialists room, the one stabalizing force is Ryan,” special teams coordinator LeVar Woods said.
Gersonde is a man of several talents. He’s been a great holder for Shudak.
“If you ask any kicker, if you ask Keith, if you ask Caleb, guys that work with him every day; he’s a really good holder,” Woods said. “He can correct a snap, a lace here or there.”
He also moonlights as Taylor’s punting caddy of sorts.
“He helps Tory out a lot, figuring out which ball he should hit, with the wind and which way the pattern is going,” Woods said.
5. Freshman are arriving earlier and it’s making a difference
Several weeks ago coach Ferentz said he was becoming more open to the idea of getting freshman on the field. This season is evidence of that.
Keagan Johnson, Arland Bruce and Connor Colby have all seen time and even started at times. What do they all have in common? Arriving on campus early.
“He had a full winter phase of training to really capture some strength out of him, so we didn’t have to put on the training wheels when it comes to summer conditioning,” strength coordinator Raimond Braithwaite said of Colby. “They’re (Johnson and Bruce) in the same boat. Both mid-year guys and they got that winter phase in them. Having spring ball was also huge for all three of those guys. You can see it on the field.”