By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – For the sake of Iowa fans, I sure hope what junior punter Tory Taylor said Tuesday about the Iowa offense turns out to be true.
But I’ll believe it when I see it.
Taylor was asked how good he thinks Iowa can be next season and he referred to a conversation he had this spring with quarterback Spencer Petras.
“I keep telling Spencer, well, there might be a few less punts this year from the way things are going, and there certainly are a lot more balls in the end zone than from what I’ve previously experienced,” Taylor said.
The comment certainly raised a few eyebrows in the media and created a positive narrative that some will almost certainly push because spring is the time for hope and optimism.
It’s when the glass is always half full, even when talking about the much-maligned Iowa offense.
But Taylor also pointed out the obvious about spring practice.
“It’s really hard to gauge because spring ball is more of a development stage and we obviously lost a couple key pieces like we knew, but guys just come in their place,” Taylor said. “So yeah, we’re all really excited, and moving forward, I think we’ll be fine.
“You know, it’s Iowa, they always find a way.”
Iowa does almost always find a way to have success under veteran head coach Kirk Ferentz, including winning the Big Ten West Division last season and 10 games overall for the second time in the past three seasons.
But Iowa also hasn’t won the Big Ten title since 2004, and right now, it’s fair to say the offense is what’s holding the team back.
The 24-year old Taylor, who is from Melbourne, Australia, has been spectacular in his two seasons as a Hawkeye and he now ranks among the top punters in the Big Ten.
He averaged 46.1 yards on a Big Ten-leading 80 punts last season.
He was also named the Big Ten Punter of the Year as a freshman in 2020 when he averaged 44.1 yards on 40 punts.
The fact that Taylor punted a whopping 80 times last season speaks volumes about Iowa’s inability to finish drives on offense. That’s an average of nearly six punts per game.
“I want to personally, but that’s not going to benefit the team,” Taylor said about wanting to punt 80 times again next season. “It’s always nice when I get to go out there. But it’s not nice for the team.
“So, maybe a few less.”
Spring is the time when teams work on fundamentals and start to build an identity.
And while the Iowa offense might be in the process of climbing to another level, there is no tangible way of knowing in the spring.
If I had a dollar for every spring storyline that failed to materialize over the past 30 years of covering Iowa football, I’d feel a lot better about grocery shopping and filling my car with gas.
I don’t want to rain on the parade, and in no way am I suggesting that Taylor is being less than truthful about the offense.
I just need to see it with my own eyes and against real opponents.
I need to see offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz have more performances like the 2019 Holiday Bowl when he devised a masterful game plan that helped pave the way to a 48-24 victory over the University of Southern California, and fewer games like last season against Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan when Iowa scored seven, seven and three points, respectively, in the three losses.
I need to see the Iowa offense play to win, rather than play not to lose.
I need to see the offense play more up tempo, stretch the field and take more chances instead of settling on a five-yard pass play on 3rd-and-7 because it’s less risky.
I need to see Iowa’s starting quarterback, whether it be Petras, Alex Padilla or Joey Labas, complete at least 60 percent of his passes, which hasn’t happened since the 2015 season.
And I need to see the Iowa running game finally live up to its reputation for a change by averaging at least 150 rushing yards per game next season.
One could argue that Tory Taylor is Iowa’s best player now that All-America center Tyler Linderbaum has declared for the 2022 NFL draft as a junior.
In fact, I recently wrote a column listing the five best players on the team, and Taylor was No. 1 on the list.
That’s great if you’re into punting, and it sure helps with field position.
But it doesn’t say much about the Iowa offense.