Iowa's offensive identity an enticing work in progress
IOWA CITY, Ia. -- Is the Iowa offense in the midst of an identity crisis?
Saturday's season-opening football victory against Northern Iowa featured more variety than we're used to from coach Kirk Ferentz.
And to be honest, it was a little unsettling.
"I wouldn't call it a crisis if the receivers are making more plays than they have in the past," Hawkeye wideout Kevonte Martin-Manley said. "It's just a good thing for the whole offense.
"It all goes hand in hand."
Whoever does the defensive scouting for Ball State — the opponent in this Saturday's 2:30 p.m. game at Kinnick Stadium — will have a lot to cover.
Heck, even those who bleed black and gold may not recognize such a diversified scheme.
Five different running backs carried the ball in Iowa's first nine snaps last week. Before the Hawkeyes were finished, quarterback Jake Rudock connected with 13 different receivers.
The result was 401 total yards (Iowa averaged 377 in 2013) and a 31-23 win (Iowa only eclipsed 30 points three times in 13 games last season).
"We have a lot of guys out there ready to make plays," running back Mark Weisman said. "I think the more guys you have, the better it's going to be."
Iowa's success came with a few statistical quirks.
Junior receiver Tevaun Smith was the leading rusher with 35 yards, all coming on a third-quarter end around.
Martin-Manley was the leading receiver with eight catches, but averaged a modest 7.8 yards per reception.
If not for Derrick Willies stretching out to make a 46-yard grab in the fourth quarter, no Hawkeyes would have made a reception longer than 16 yards.
"We can run the ball, and we can pass," Smith said. "If we can do both, the sky is the limit."
Expectations were lower when Greg Davis became offensive coordinator in 2012.
Nobody knew Weisman rhymed with Heisman, and Rudock was redshirting.
They became the building blocks for an offensive makeover that now includes the deepest running back corps of Ferentz's 16-year tenure and a potentially dazzling group of receivers.
"I feel like we can attack from a lot of different angles," Martin-Manley said. "We've put in a lot of work.
"It's really starting to pay off."
The possibilities are enticing. The early inconsistencies are maddening.
It's a tough balancing act for any play-caller.
Iowa rushed for 89 yards on its first 17 attempts against Northern Iowa (an average of 5.2), but netted just 62 yards on its final 19 carries (a 3.3 clip).
Remember the good old days, when Ferentz's teams wore down defenses?
"Sometimes, it takes time," right tackle Andrew Donnal said. "From the offensive line, there is countless fundamental errors that we could clean up and do better.
"Once we get 11 guys cohesive and acting as one, that's when this stuff will start coming."
Meanwhile, observers in the Twittersphere debated whether the Hawkeyes were too cautious when it came to throwing deep.
"There were a couple opportunities that maybe we didn't see it," Ferentz said. "There's always going to be a couple plays where you say, 'Geez, this was opening up.'
"As we move forward, we'll be a little bit better at that and get a few more of those big plays in the repertoire."
An expanding repertoire will be tricky for opponents. But it may not be a cinch for Iowa's brain trust, either.
"It's always evolving and ongoing," Ferentz said. "We're clearly more talented and experienced at the skill positions than we have been since 2012.
"It's all part of the process."