Iowa's offensive coordinator says it's limited two-tailback formations, but he needs to have more trust in his freshmen
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Brian Ferentz was expecting to take heat in his first year as Iowa offensive coordinator.
It was obvious Wednesday that he wasn’t just talking about criticism from Hawkeye fans.
“I don’t know that I’ve done anything particularly well,” the 34-year-old son of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz told reporters in his lone scheduled media session this season. “I know our players have done a really nice job of turning some average things into good things.”
It was a repeated message from Brian Ferentz with Iowa in its bye week after a 4-2 start to the season.
He still blames himself for calling “a gimmick play” from his own 3-yard line that resulted in a Penn State safety in the first quarter of an eventual 21-19 loss.
“Probably changed the complexion of the game,” Ferentz said.
He still questions the gameplan heading into the Michigan State game the following week, when the Hawkeyes rushed for only 19 yards and lost 17-10.
“Unfortunately, our line has got to take the brunt of the criticism. I think that starts with me. I didn't design it very well,” Ferentz said. “We didn't ask guys to do things that were going to help us be successful, so whose fault is that?”
For every fault Ferentz found with the offense he is running for the first time, he pointed the finger to himself, noting that he believes the Hawkeyes should be 6-0 at the midpoint of the season.
“Any game we play, we expect to win it, and we don't have the liberty of worrying about Vegas lines and things of that nature. Or who's experienced, who's not experienced, where the game is, what time it's at,” Ferentz said. “We've had opportunities to win the two games that we didn't win.
“We're frustrated and certainly disappointed by that, but not discouraged.”
Ferentz had praise for sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley, who has thrown for 15 touchdowns in his first season as a starter. He is pleased by the progress of a young group of wide receivers and tight ends. He is hopeful that the Hawkeyes have settled on a cohesive offensive line combination after gaining 441 yards in a 45-16 win over Illinois on Saturday.
But two primary problems concern him.
The Hawkeyes are averaging only 3.7 yards per rushing attempt, a number that is not conducive to sustained success for a program that relies on the run.
“If you're somewhere around 4 ½ (yards per carry), you're probably playing winning football, at least for us and our numbers,” Ferentz said. “But if you're below that, it's not good enough.”
And Iowa’s 11 turnovers include a ghastly nine lost fumbles (out of 14 total).
“That's a real bad number,” Ferentz said. “I've never been around a really good championship-level football team that's fumbled the ball at that rate.”
Ferentz also knows that Stanley and his receivers need to start connecting on deep pass attempts, or defenses will continue to concentrate on stuffing the running game.
“If you send one down the field once a quarter and you look at four a game, if you're hitting on two of those, I think you're really, really good. If you're hitting on one, you're doing pretty well because those are the type of plays that change the game,” he said.
Iowa has shown a willingness to try to stretch the field, but Ferentz acknowledged that his offense probably needs to include more passing plays outside the hash marks to really test defenses.
And that gets back to play-calling, something Ferentz has never before been asked to do. He was Iowa’s offensive line coach and running game coordinator before replacing the retired Greg Davis in January.
“You don't really dwell too much on the successes. I'm not sure there's been that many,” Ferentz said of the 398 plays he’s called so far. “I think about the bad calls. …
“I knew it was going to be hard. I knew there were going to be good moments, and there's no better moment than the one we had at Iowa State (a 44-41 overtime win). That's as high as it gets, right? But there's no worse moment than some of the ones we had in East Lansing. That's as low as it gets, and that's how this job works.”