IOWA CITY, Iowa – From a statistical standpoint, the 4-2 Iowa football team leaves much to be desired on offense.
And for many, that is hard to understand because Iowa had a wealth of experience returning on offense from last season, led by all-Big Ten senior quarterback C.J. Beathard
The lack of productivity on offense is probably this season’s biggest story so far, especially since the Iowa defense performed well during this past Saturday’s 14-7 victory at Minnesota.
The defense had been struggling to stop the run, but Minnesota was held to 102 rushing yards on 29 carries this past Saturday.
“The biggest thing on defense to me is I thought we pressured the quarterback a little bit better first and foremost and we played the run better,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “And we hadn’t been doing a great job of that this year.
“To have a good defensive football team, you’ve got to play the run.”
The Iowa offense, on the other hand, did just enough to help secure a victory.
Beathard played with courage and grit and sacrificed his body in the pursuit of touchdowns and first downs.
But as a unit, the Iowa offense sputtered for much of the game as Beathard only passed for 142 yards.
Iowa rushed for 179 yards, which is respectable, but 85 yards came on just two carries, including Akrum Wadley’s game-winning 54-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The other 39 rushing attempts only gained 94 yards.
Iowa is currently ranked 13th in the Big Ten in both total offense (338.2) and rushing offense (149.2) and 12th in passing offense (189.0).
Iowa might survive against Purdue this coming Saturday and against Illinois on Nov. 19th in Champaign, Ill., with those kinds of offensive numbers.
But the rest of Iowa’s schedule is brutal with three home games against Wisconsin (Oct. 22); Michigan (Nov. 12) and Nebraska (Nov. 25), along with a road game at Penn State on Nov. 5. Those four teams have a combined record of 20-3.
In addition to that, Ohio State (2), Michigan (4), Wisconsin (8) and Nebraska (10) are all ranked in the top 10 in this week’s Associated Press poll. It marks the first time since 1960 that the Big Ten has had four teams ranked in the AP top 10.
Critics can’t criticize Iowa for its schedule like they did a year ago, but there is a risk in playing a tough schedule, and it’s called losing.
The offense has to improve in a hurry.
There is reason to think it will because of the experience Iowa has on offense, from Beathard to three returning starters on the offensive line to veteran running backs LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley.
Combine all of them with senior tight end George Kittle and the pieces are in place you would think for Iowa to be effective on offense.
Losing star receiver Matt VandeBerg certainly didn’t help. But he is also just one of five or six receives who are expected to contribute.
Reshuffling the offensive line seems to have worked this past Saturday, if only because Iowa prevailed.
“Just thought it would be worth taking a shot at,” Ferentz said after the Minnesota game.
Iowa also excels in the red zone, converting on 19 of 20 opportunities this season, which at 95 percent, leads the Big Ten. The problem has been getting to the red zone on a consistent basis.
Ferentz praised his offense on Saturday for making strides.
“I think our pass protection improved,” Ferentz said. “I saw some things we can move forward with; the running game, there were some plays there that were some really good plays as you could see, and others that were real close. So we’ll keep pushing forward there.”
The biggest challenge facing the Iowa offense is consistency, on the ground and in the air.
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis still seems to be searching for an identity for his current offense. He wants to run, partly because his boss wants to run, but also because Iowa is built to run.
Davis also wants to utilize Beathard in the best way possible. And there still is plenty of time to do that with this being the midway point of the regular season.
It would help if a second receiving option emerged at tight end and if the wide receivers got more separation.
Statistics don’t tell the whole story, but they are significant or we wouldn’t keep them.
The Iowa offense has underachieved so far this season and statistics help to explain how and why.
Where Iowa currently ranks in the Big Ten
Scoring offense: seventh, 27.8
Scoring defense: fourth, 16.5
Total offense: 13th, 338.2
Total defense: fifth, 348.5
Rush offense: 13th, 149.2
Rush defense: eighth, 169.3
Pass offense: 12th, 189.0
Pass defense: fourth, 179.2
Pass efficiency: seventh, 135.2
Pass efficiency defense: seventh, 113.8
Kickoff returns, second, 27.3
Punt returns: fifth, 11.7
Punting: fifth, 39.3
Kickoff coverage: 12th, 38.8
Sacks by: fourth, 16
Sacks against: 11th, 15
First downs: 12th, 17.5
3rd-down conversions: 10th, 36.7
Opponent 3rd-down conversions: fifth, 31.4
4th-down conversions: first, 4 of 5, 80 percent
Penalties: fifth, 28, 40.8 yards per game
Red zone offense: first, 19 of 20, 95 percent
Red zone defense: fifth, 12 of 17, 70.6 percent