IOWA CITY, Ia. – For much of his 16 seasons as Iowa's football coach, Kirk Ferentz has been consistent and predictable by nature.
Opponents knew what they were getting when they faced the Hawkeyes. The offense was short on bells and whistles, long on power and execution.
But as Saturday's 20-17 loss to Iowa State shows, "predictable" has been replaced by "puzzling." Iowa's offensive plan of attack? I'm not sure. This is an offense without an identity heading into the fourth game of the season Saturday at Pittsburgh.
Everything from this point on, I acknowledge, is Monday morning quarterbacking. I'm not in the coaches' meetings, the position meeting rooms or the film sessions. I don't have a grasp of the game like those who get paid to coach it do.
But even to the novice eye, it's clear that whatever Greg Davis is trying to accomplish has more misses than hits thus far. In the second half Saturday, quarterback Jake Rudock looked like James Vandenberg, version 2012.
Vandenberg was a senior when Davis arrived in 2012 as offensive coordinator to replace Ken O'Keefe, now the wide receivers coach for the Miami Dolphins. That was a tough transition for Vandenberg, who took unfair heat as he tried to direct an offense that rarely looked in sync.
Davis got a free pass in 2012 as a rookie on Ferentz's staff. Wide receivers coach Erik Campbell was let go after that 4-8 season and replaced by Bobby Kennedy, who worked with Davis at Texas. It was an attempt to get everyone on the same page. And it made perfect sense.
But so far, that synergy hasn't been created. Iowa had a solid offense last season, and has returned eight starters. The only missing elements were tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz, now a rookie with the Houston Texans; left guard Conor Boffeli; and right tackle Brett Van Sloten.
Last year's team averaged 377 yards of total offense. This year's team is at the same exact figure through four games. But how they got there is alarming. The 2013 team averaged 179.9 yards on the ground. This year, just 131. The Hawkeyes, unable to run the ball, have been forced to pass it to the tune of 246 yards a game.
Iowa State had allowed 267 yards rushing a game over the first two weeks. Iowa managed just 129. Jordan Canzeri averaged six yards a carry. But for some reason, he only got three touches. If he wasn't injured, I wonder why?
The Cyclones had allowed 221.5 yards through the air. Iowa managed just 146. After Rudock got picked off early in the third quarter with his team in front, 14-3, the offense seemed to retreat into a shell and throw precaution to the wind.
In the second half, Iowa had just 28 snaps from scrimmage. Only seven of those plays in the second half went for more than five yards. Two of them, completions of 14 and nine yards to Tevaun Smith, were his only catches of the half on the drive that led to the tying field goal. And those were two more catches than we saw from either Damond Powell or Derrick Willies, who were expected to stretch the field this season.
Now comes a trip to Pittsburgh, a 3-0 team with a star running back in James Conner. He's averaging 181.3 rushing yards. The Panthers as a team are averaging 344.3. Stopping the run is Iowa's strong suit so far, allowing just 65.7 yards. But Pittsburgh's defense is allowing just 77.3 rushing yards.
It's time for the Hawkeyes' running game to show up. And it's time to give backup quarterback C.J. Beathard a shot. We've seen him for one series this season. Let him throw it, and see what happens. What is there to lose?
Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.
The bands, cheerleaders, players, coaches and fans -- oh, those screaming fans -- were all ready for Saturday Cy-Hawk showdown in Iowa City.