IOWA CITY, Ia. — Who says the Iowa offense is bland?
The embattled unit certainly unveiled some misdirection on Tuesday. The occasion was the Hawkeyes’ weekly media availability, not an actual game, but still ...
First, junior tailback Akrum Wadley told reporters that Iowa has installed a few plays that feature him as a slot receiver with LeShun Daniels Jr. in the backfield.
“We’re just really excited. We’re ready to see how it’s going to work out,” Wadley said of a formation that fans have clamored for but never seen.
Later, coach Kirk Ferentz doused the flame that Wadley lit with some cold water.
“It's really a wildcat, and we've got a triple option with a pass off of it. All kinds of razzle-dazzle stuff,” Ferentz joked when asked about Wadley’s comment. “We're just fooling around with different looks and what have you. Nothing major.”
As inspirational quotes go, “nothing major” isn’t exactly going to fire up a fan base that is hoping to see more creativity from a Hawkeye offense that gained only 236 yards and produced a season-low nine points two weeks ago in a loss to Wisconsin.
But offensive coordinator Greg Davis, speaking during Iowa’s bye week, said that putting his best two options on the field at the same time was an idea under consideration. That would be Daniels, a senior who has rushed for 624 yards, and Wadley, who has supplemented his 644 yards on the ground with 188 through the air. Wadley has nine touchdowns and Daniels six. No other Hawkeye has more than three, or even half as many yards from scrimmage as Wadley.
So increasing his role in Iowa’s four remaining games — starting Saturday at No. 23 Penn State — seems like an obvious call.
“Whether it’s from the backfield or the slot position, any way to help the team,” said Wadley, coming off a game in which he had a career-high seven catches for 72 yards.
“You can put him anywhere on the field and he has the ability to make plays with his feet,” Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard said of Wadley. “He’s an explosive player. Anytime you get him the ball in space, it’s good.”
The explosive junior running back is excited to see how things will shape up at Penn State. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral.com
So, it’s been decided: Wadley will occasionally line up at a position he’s never played before, even in high school, in an effort to jumpstart Iowa’s offense?
Maybe. But it’s also worth remembering that we’ve been down this road before. In Week 2, Hawkeyes cornerback Desmond King indicated to reporters that he would be shadowing Iowa State star wide receiver Allen Lazard in that week’s game. That’s not what Iowa normally does, so the news caused a bit of a stir.
And then it never happened. King gave reporters a wink and backpedaled from his comments the following week, and he’s been playing his normal role ever since, albeit at an exceptionally high level.
Desmond King discusses Penn State challenge and the recent rest time.
It’s also worth noting that Penn State’s 23 sacks rank second in the Big Ten Conference, meaning Wadley may be needed more in pass protection, where he is a superior option to Daniels.
So it’s probably wise to temper expectations regarding offensive innovation. It could be another example of game-week gamesmanship.
The Hawkeyes have long had a system they believe in and rarely stray from, for better or worse. It was good enough for a 12-2 finish last year. It’s been good enough to produce three games of 40 or more points this year.
“We’re not freaking out or changing anything crazy. It’s just a matter of us doing the basics a little bit better,” Beathard said later in his interview session, casting some doubt on a markedly different role for Wadley.
“It’s not necessarily us having to remake our offense. We’re doing the same stuff we did last year.”
Still, Wadley was the intended target on the one trick play Iowa tried against Wisconsin — a designed pass from wide receiver Riley McCarron. McCarron held on to the ball rather than risk an interception on that play. Was it a sign of more trickery to come?
Ferentz has the last word on the subject. On Tuesday, his last words were:
“It's not like we're going to look a whole lot different, I can assure you that, on Saturday. Hopefully, we'll look better, sharper, crisper, and a little better execution.”
Where does that leave Wadley, in the backfield or in the slot? Stay tuned.