By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Some free and simple advice for Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz:
Run the ball.
If it doesn’t produce positive results right away against Michigan State on Saturday, still keep running.
Feed Tyler Goodson early and often with both running plays and short passes, and rely on your veteran offensive line to do its job.
Also trust your two backup running backs, Mekhi Sargent and Ivory Kelly-Martin, to make plays.
Trust what is supposedly the backbone to Hawkeye football under your father, Kirk Ferentz, because first-year starting quarterback Spencer Petras is being asked to do way too much as a passer.
The fact that Petras attempted 50 passes in last Saturday’s 21-20 loss Northwestern, in what was just his second career start, doesn’t make sense under any circumstance, but even more so in this case with Iowa having led 17-0 after the first quarter, and with the game played during a global pandemic in which preparation and practice time has been greatly impacted.
This isn’t to say that Iowa should forget about the passing game because one feeds off the other in the never-ending pursuit of offensive balance, and because Iowa has good receivers, even with senior Ihmir Smith-Marsette suspended for Saturday’s game after being charged with drunken driving.
But it seems that Brian Ferentz forget about his running game against Northwestern, or he just lost faith in it due to reasons that aren’t clear at this point.
Whatever the case, Iowa isn’t built to be one-dimensional on offense, and Petras isn’t ready to throw 40 passes in a game, let alone 50.
Goodson, on the other hand, appears ready to handle at least 20 rushing attempts in a game. And the more you give Goodson the football, the better his chances will be to make big plays.
“That’s not up to me, that’s up to the coaching staff,” Goodson said when asked if he were a 20-to-25 carry guy. “But personally, I think I could take as many carries as they give me.
“Or, if just like a coach tells me or asks me to play a different position, I’ll do that. If they want me to go out and carry the ball 25 or 30 times, I’ll do it. If they want me to go out on the field and carry the 12, 15 times, I’ll do it.”
There is some irony in telling an Iowa offensive coordinator under Kirk Ferentz to place more emphasis on the run, because one of the biggest complaints about Kirk Ferentz over the years is that his beliefs on offense are too predictable and too conservative and lack imagination when it comes to throwing down field.
So you could say that Kirk Ferentz can’t win in this case.
He’s been criticized for having a predictable running game, and for being too stubborn to open up the offense, and now he’s being criticized for allowing his son to call 50 pass plays for a quarterback with hardly any experience.
It makes sense why Brian Ferentz would want to get his talented receivers involved in the offense.
The problem in the first two games is that he just went too far, or so it seems, considering Iowa lost both games, and considering the offense only scored three points in the second half in each of the first two games.
Petras also threw three interceptions against Northwestern, including two in the fourth quarter when Iowa really seemed to force the issue.
Another reason to emphasize the run is that Iowa has three proven running backs, led by Goodson, a dynamic and versatile sophomore from Suwanee, Ga.
Goodson only had 13 rushing attempts against Northwestern for 43 yards and two catches for eight yards.
That just isn’t enough carries or catches for a player with Goodson’s skill set.
Get him involved early with some screen passes, with some easier throws for Petras, and then let Goodson use his immense talent, and hopefully, some blocking, to do the rest.
Football is very complex in some ways, but it’s not rocket science.
Saturday’s game will be the first between Iowa and Michigan State since 2017, and a lot has changed for the Spartans since then, including their head coach.
Mel Tucker is in his first season after replacing Mark Dantonio.
Junior Rocky Lombardi, a graduate of West Des Moines Valley, is also in his first season as Michigan State’s starting quarterback. And much like his team, Lombardi has been hot and old in the first two games.
After struggling against Rutgers in the season opener, Lombardi bounced back by passing for 323 yards and three touchdowns against Michigan last Saturday.
It goes without saying that Saturday’s game is a must-win for Iowa.
Heck, the Northwestern game almost felt like a must win for Iowa.
“Saturday is very important, along with every other Saturday,” Goodson said. “0-and-two is obviously very frustrating for this team, and we want to do better and we will do better.”
Prediction: Iowa 31, Michigan State 29