There were multiple ways to evaluate Iowa’s rushing offense last season.
Efficiency and success rate for those who prefer advanced stats, or the yards-per-carry measure for a more traditional outlook.
The numbers in either method, however, tell the same story — the Hawkeyes need a big improvement in their rushing offense in 2018 to avoid a regression in the win column.
“When you look at yards per carry, usually it is representative of where you’re at for a season,” said Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz during last year’s bye week press conference.
Fair enough coach, let’s start there.
Iowa averaged only 3.8 yards per carry, which was 11th in the Big Ten. There were five games where the Hawkeyes didn’t muster a three-yard per carry average, the lowlight being a 25-carry, 19-yard embarrassment at Michigan State.
It was the first time since 2012 that the black-and-gold did not achieve a four-yard average, and only the eighth year all-time under Kirk Ferentz. Iowa still managed eight wins in 2017, including two where they rushed for less than four yards per carry. The average win total historically from other Iowa teams below the four-yard rate was six.
The advanced stats paint a similar picture.
Iowa was below average in almost every measurement, and ranked particularly bad in power success rate (short-yardage) and ISO points per play (explosive plays).
In other words, the Hawkeyes overachieved getting to an 8-5 record considering how integral their ground game is to the offense.
Posting another winning record, let alone getting to eight victories is going to be tough to repeat next fall with similar futility, especially considering of the best three players involved with the rushing offense will be playing in the National Football League in 2018.
Akrum Wadley’s vision and elusiveness made up for an offensive line that was either injured, inconsistent, or both, from preseason camp in August until the Pinstripe Bowl in December. James Daniels and Sean Welsh, who were both banged up during the season, held together a line bookended by freshman tackles.
“We were moving some parts around pretty frequently,” said offensive line coach Tim Polasek. “And I think those guys, to a man, needed to be a little bit more accountable. On top of that, I think as a football coach could have done a better job.”
Polasek entering his second season in Iowa City should help. He said he believes he’ll be able to coach more effectively being familiar with the offense.
“Now you know the system instead of just coaching the system,” Polasek said. “We’re able to problem-solve faster…eliminate the bad and replace it with good.”
Avoiding injuries would bring continuity that should eliminate some of the “bad” too.
But the responsibility will be on Polasek to develop a young position group, and Brian Ferentz to put his offense in the best situation to be successful via the ground game.
Iowa’s success in 2018 hinges on it.