IOWA CITY, Iowa – Blaming Greg Davis for the Iowa football team’s offensive woes is too easy.
It’s unfair to just single him out.
Now don’t get me wrong, Davis’ horizontal passing attack is beyond frustrating. It’s excruciating to watch and many times counter-productive.
It’s probably no coincidence that Iowa has a 19-19 record over the past three seasons with Davis as the offensive coordinator. Davis has shown to be the master of the 3-yard down-and-out on 4th-and-5, but of little else.
But in his defense, the talent at Iowa is nothing close to what Davis had at the University of Texas. Davis knew that before joining Kirk Ferentz’s staff at Iowa in 2012.
But I have to wonder if Davis assumed after taking the Iowa job that the Hawkeye rushing attack would be more productive than it has been over the past three seasons?
Because when you think of Iowa football under Ferentz, you picture a powerful rushing attack that methodically moves the chains. At least, that’s how it used to be.
Iowa has tried to sustain that approach under the 64-year old Davis, but with mixed results.
Even with 2014 Outland Trophy winner Brandon Scherff leading the way, Iowa’s rushing attack was ordinary last season, or average might be a better word, considering the Hawkeyes finished seventh in the Big Ten in rushing, which is right smack in the middle of the 14-team conference.
It wasn’t just last season, though.
Iowa’s rushing attack has been ordinary for a while, finishing no higher than sixth in the Big Ten in rushing yards since Shonn Greene had his record-breaking season in 2008.
Iowa finished 11-2 overall in 2009 despite finishing 10th in the Big Ten in rushing with an average of 114.2 yards per game.
Of all the perceptions about Iowa football under Ferentz, the one about the offense being led by a powerful rushing attack is somewhat misguided.
That has to change ASAP, not the perception, but rather Iowa’s inability to live up to it.
It’s logical to think that if Iowa could run with more success, Davis would rely less on those maddening horizontal passes.
Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking with the 2015 season approaching.
But either way, it’s time for the Iowa rushing attack to live up to its once-deserved reputation.
Ferentz wants to be balanced on offense, but for him, the proper balance is titled slightly towards the ground attack.
I’ve heard the argument that the only thing that separated Iowa from Wisconsin last season was Melvin Gordon’s presence at running back for the Badgers. That might be true, but it’s sort of like saying after a baseball team loses 1-0 that the only thing separating it from the winning team was the ace pitcher who tossed the shutout.
Bringing up the Melvin Gordon factor is really just another way to spin a moral victory.
Blaming Mark Weisman for Iowa’s rushing deficiencies also has become too easy. Some assume that Iowa will have a more productive rushing attack in 2015 simply because Weisman has used up his eligibility and won’t be around anymore to slow things down.
Be careful what you wish for because it’s not Weisman’s fault that he was Iowa’s best option at running back for most of the past three seasons.
It’s not Weisman’s fault that the Iowa coaches moved him from fullback to running back after a rash of injuries and that nobody could beat him out after that.
It’s not Weisman’s fault that Marcus Coker, Mika’il McCall, Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill didn’t stay in school, or that Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels haven’t stayed healthy.
It’s not just one thing that has made Iowa mediocre these days. But there is one thing that could, and should lead the resurgence. And that’s the Iowa rushing attack.
I’m all for stretching defenses by throwing downfield. But Iowa is built to run the football under Ferentz and it starts with recruiting.
Both starting tackles will be new, but the interior of Iowa’s offensive line has experience with seniors Austin Blythe and Jordan Walsh having started 35 and 24 games, respectively.
There isn’t a quarterback controversy to cause a distraction, either. C.J. Beathard is firmly entrenched as the starter and he would benefit greatly from a productive rushing attack. Imagine the options with play-action using Beathard’s powerful right arm.
Brian Ferentz is entering his fourth season as his father’s offensive line coach at Iowa. He and Davis both joined the staff before the disastrous 4-8 season in 2012.
Brian deserves credit for helping to mold Scherff into a star, but other than that, Brian’s performance has been average, mostly because the offensive line has been average under his watch.
Brian acknowledged that in regard to last season while addressing the media in April.
“We didn’t get the things done that we needed to do,” Brian said of the offensive line’s performance last season. “We did not establish the run consistently enough. We didn’t protect the passer well enough.
“I guess I’m living in my world right now, but that’s really all I can control and that’s what I focus on.”
That was the correct answer to give, really the only answer to give under the circumstances.
Some fans probably thought Brian Ferentz, who turned 32 in March, was being groomed to replace his father as the Iowa head coach when Brian left his position with the New England Patriots to return to his alma mater.
Maybe that was Kirk Ferentz’s intent. But there is no chance it’ll happen without another resurgence. And that probably won’t happen without the running game living up to its reputation for a change.