How can Iowa football's offensive line make Week 2 jump? Kirk Ferentz, players offer solutions
Iowa sophomore offensive lineman Mason Richman entered the football facility on Sunday eagerly anticipating film session. It wasn't going to be a good one and he knew that.
Oddly enough, those are the film reviews he appreciates most.
"You got to really love the bad ones because those are the ones we're gonna learn the most," Richman said. "And the good ones you got to love just as much."
There's was lots of learning in that session.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said after last Saturday's win over South Dakota State that there would be a lot of teaching moments for the offensive line. It was a disappointing day overall. The Hawkeyes only gained 166 yards of total offense and averaged 1.8 yards per rush.
After a thorough film session and a few days of practice, Richman offered his takeaways Tuesday.
"We left some stuff out there in the field," Richman said. "I'm really excited to see how a lot of guys respond because that's what good players really do. The first game of the year is always really tough … but that's no excuse for the way we played on Saturday. However, the biggest takeaway for me it was we got to play more together. We can't have four guys doing the right thing and then one guy kind of off or anything so that's just the biggest takeaway for me."
Richman and Ferentz said on Tuesday that it wasn't for lack of effort that Iowa's offense didn't perform to expectations. No, they said, the execution wasn't there. And there were a few factors that contributed to this.
To start, four of their five starting linemen were either in their first career start or starting in a new position for the first time. Then according to Richman, there was anxiousness with the first game of the season and playing an opponent that's not your own defense.
It led to players overthinking, especially early on and throughout the game it was difficult to find a rhythm.
The biggest illustration is with center Logan Jones. Iowa's zone-blocking scheme hinders on offensive linemen moving on one accord. Last season with Tyler Linderbaum, getting snaps off on time and placing the ball in the right place to was hardly an issue. Jones has been practicing since spring, but it's not the same as playing a live game.
"There's no there's no way to simulate some of the things he had to do (on Saturday)," Ferentz said. "Just give you a quick example: We weren't all there on the cadence the other day. Some guys are a little slow or the ball's a little slow getting snapped. To me that's your first game. That's what that's all about, and the sooner we can accelerate that process the better."
Outside of eliminating early jitters, Iowa's offensive line will need cohesion to battle Iowa State's defensive line, led by All-American defensive end Will McDonald IV. The Cyclones' 3-3-5 base defense is unlike anything Iowa usually sees throughout the year. They utilize their three defensive linemen in a two-gap scheme. That means they're required to fill between two offensive lineman, thus plugging two gaps (primarily in the run game).
For Iowa, this means its guards and tackles have to be together; if the Hawkeyes are off, then tackles for loss will be abundant.
"In three-down (lineman) front, they're trying to get us spread out into man blocks and stuff," Richman said. "So the biggest thing for us has been trying to play together and block these guys the same on every play even though they show you a bunch of different stuff, and just being more physical."
Ferentz also shed light on playing rotations along the line on Tuesday. Last Saturday, instead of (left to right) Mason Richman, Tyler Elsbury, Logan Jones, Connor Colby, Jack Plumb, as it was listed in the Week 1 depth chart, Iowa's starting unit went as followed: Richman, Nick DeJong; Logan Jones; Beau Stephens; Connor Colby.
And the Week 2 depth chart is the same as the original Week 1 chart. Ferentz said he anticipates a "fluid process" as they have between eight to 10 players competing. Those players include: redshirt freshmen Tyler Elsbury; Gennings Dunker; Mike Myslinski; sophomores Connor Colby; Logan Jones; Mason Richman; junior Nick DeJong and redshirt senior Jack Plumb.
Injuries have factored heavily into personnel. Stephens and Gennings Dunker, both redshirt freshmen who played last Saturday, essentially missed all of last year and are playing for the first time. DeJong and Richman missed parts of fall camp and two players: Justin Britt and David Davidkov are out for the season.
As far as Colby, Ferentz said the plan is to keep him outside at right tackle (despite being listed as the No. 1 guard). And two players who were listed starters but didn't play last Saturday — guard Tyler Elsbury and tackle Jack Plumb are still in the mix.
What does this mean for Saturday?
It most likely means that there will be another playing rotation among several players. The belief is that Jones will be more settled, Colby will feel more comfortable at tackle and the cohesion on the interior will improve after getting over the first game hump.
But how large could a Week 1 to Week 2 jump be? Ferentz and his staff will be searching for that answer all week.
Because it needs to be a big one to beat Iowa State.
"That's our challenge. That's the race that we're running right now," Ferentz said." And you know the clocks sitting there at 3:05 p.m. for Saturday so we don't have a lot of time, so we got to speed that process up as much as we can."
Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.