Iowa Football: 6 Hopes and 5 Doubts for New Hawkeye Offensive Coordinator
One of the big questions over the past 13 years has been how many of the offensive woes could be placed at the feet of Ken O'Keefe, the offensive coordinator, and how many could be placed at the feet of Kirk Ferentz, the head coach?
Who insisted that Jake Christensen play the entire second half against Pitt in 2008?
Who called the reverse pass that effectively squashed Iowa's chances in the 2006 Alamo Bowl?
Who keeps calling that infernal end around?
We may never know the answer to some of these questions, but with a new offensive coordinator in the works, we can make certain prognostications as to what has the potential to change and what will be staying the same.
Don't Expect a Spread Offense
The spread offense is commonly mistaken as one type of distinct offense. This is inaccurate.
Nebraska, which had the ninth-most rushing attempts in the country last season, runs a spread offense. Oklahoma State, which had the fifth-most passing attempts in the country in 2011, also runs a spread offense. Not many are aware of this, but Georgia Tech—they have what some would call the outdated triple option—run a spread offense due to the wide splits between the offensive linemen.
Seven of the top 10 scoring offenses in 2011 were spread O's. Furthermore, seven Big Ten teams currently run spreads, and with a new offensive coordinator, many Hawkeye fans are hoping that Iowa becomes No. 8, but it's not going to happen.
In fact, it's never going to happen as long as Kirk Ferentz is coach.
Expect a pro-style offense, no matter who the new offensive coordinator is.
Hope for Running out of Three-Wide Receiver Looks
It's not a spread. It's not running out of the gun. It's not anything revolutionary.
When the Hawks have three-receiver sets on the field—as opposed to two receivers and two tight ends or two receivers, a tight end and a fullback—they should add more rushing plays to the repertoire.
Iowa's 3-1-1 set has been the most predictable set the offense fields. If Iowa has three wide receivers on the field, I would estimate there is a 95 percent chance it will be a passing play. Opposing defensive coordinators are aware of this.
Adding running plays to the 3-1-1 playbook will force the opposing defense to stay honest, especially on non-obvious passing downs. This, in turn, will render Iowa's passing out of the 3-1-1 that much more effective.
Make no mistake—this is one of the key reasons that Iowa's offense has become less effective as the last few seasons have worn on—because Iowa's limited playbook, particularly out of the 3-1-1, makes opposing defensive coordinators' jobs fairly simple.
Don't Expect a More Aggressive Offense...
...at the end of the half or at any other time.
The play-calling, for the most part, came from O'Keefe.
The conservatism, direction and overall philosophy of the team was Ferentz.
One could argue that Ferentz has consistently sat on the ball at the end of the half because he had no faith in his offensive coordinator or two-minute offense.
Maybe that is the case, but that brings up so many issues that I'd prefer not to entertain it.
Unless the new OC becomes that powerful a counter to Kirk Ferentz, expect the Hawks to continually sit on the ball with under two minutes left in the half.
Hope for a Functional Two-Minute Offense
Remember Wisconsin 2010 and the spike that never was?
How about Iowa's final drive against Northwestern in 2010, in which the offense ran 20 plays in 1:20, and only moved the ball from its own 20 to the Wildcats' 45-yard-line?
Then there was Minnesota 2011, and a four-and-out against the No. 93-ranked scoring defense and 107th-ranked passing defense (opponents' passer efficiency rating) in the country.
If you really want to look at it, the biggest play of the Kirk Ferentz era—Tate-to-Holloway—was the result of LSU confusion due to Iowa botched time management. If the Hawks called the timeout they should have, the LSU defense wouldn't have been out of position.
Either way, Iowa's consistently awful two-minute offense was on the OC, and that is something that can, and should, change immediately.
Don't Expect Trickeration
Fake punts, fake field goals, non-desperation onside kicks, statue of liberty plays, reverses, hooks and laterals.
Don't hold your breath. They're not going to happen.
Let's just hope that Iowa is more prepared when the defense or special teams are confronted with them, but that will not be on the OC.
Hope for More Screens to Combat Blitzing
The nature of Iowa's offense—a lot of players in the box—invites blitzes.
This is not a bad thing, as it can open up big-play opportunities for the receivers; however, the way Iowa has dealt with it—or failed to deal with it as the case may be—has been a systematic problem.
One of the best ways to counter a blitz is a well-timed, well-placed screen pass.
Ken O'Keefe called a perfect screen pass in the 2011 Insight Bowl.
It was the fourth quarter and the Hawks were in the red zone. Two plays, along with an movement penalty, had netted Iowa negative-seven yards. On 3rd-and-goal from the nine, Oklahoma sent the heat, as it had been doing all game, and James Vandenberg flipped a screen to Jordan Canzeri who had a clear path to the end zone.
The problem is O'Keefe called far too few screens and the ones he did call were often uncreative, obvious and poorly timed.
This is something a new offensive coordinator will have the power to remedy.
Hope for More Counters...
...when opposing defensive lines are aggressively slanting.
As the football page on about.com notes, "the counter is a great play to call when the defense is over-pursuing on a consistent basis."
In the above video, notice how Marcus Coker's first step is to the left, or weak side. The goal is to get the defense going that way, while actually going to the strong side.
Late in the year, opposing teams—especially Oklahoma and Nebraska—were slanting and over-pursuing hard against the Hawks, and Ken O'Keefe did little to adjust to it.
Some counter plays might have opened things up for Iowa's standard running game.
Don't Expect an Abandonment of the Fullback
Many teams are moving away from the fullback. They are moving towards more receivers, as well as H-backs and more versatile tight ends.
Don't expect this to happen with Iowa.
The Hawks bread-and-butter formations over the years featured either a tailback, two receivers and two tight ends; or an I-formation, which includes a halfback, a fullback, a tight end and two receivers.
These will continue to be Iowa's standard sets.
Hope for More Varied Use of the Tight Ends and Fullbacks
The NFL's New England Patriots have been doing some innovative things with their tight ends.
The Hawkeyes' new offensive line coach is former Pats' tight end coach Brian Ferentz; moreover, the Hawks favor tight end-heavy looks and already have the personnel in place to incorporate some of the things the Pats have done into its offense.
One thing Iowa might play with is a fullhouse formation.
This look is traditionally associated with an option offense, but consider the possibilities Iowa will have with an H-back-type player, a fullback and a halfback all in the backfield; at the same time, a traditional tight end will be on the line and a receiver will be out wide.
Also, a player like junior C.J. Fiedorowicz would be best utilized by lining him up off the line in some capacity.
After all, New England All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski is listed at 6'6", 265 pounds. C.J. Fiedorowicz is 6'7", 265 pounds. Physically, he should be able to create the same type of mismatches that Gronkowski provides.
With more traditional tight ends, senior Zach Derby—6'3", 240 pounds—and sophomore Ray Hamilton—6'5", 240 pounds, but will gain weight this off-season—coming off the bench, there can be a lot of versatility borne out of the Iowa tight ends and fullbacks.
It is versatility, and not spread or no-huddle or any of that nonsense, that is the true buzzword of modern football.
Hope for More Substitutions
This might help with attrition, an area that has noticeably hurt Iowa during the Kirk Ferentz era.
The Hawkeyes tend to play the same players in all sets. Perhaps young players would be less inclined to leave if they got some playing time early in their careers.
Whether this is the case or not, there is no getting around the fact that Marcus Coker got worn down as the season progressed. He was a shell of his former self by the time he reached the final game of the season against Nebraska.
Playing two or three running backs would help in this respect. Yes, I realize the Hawks haven't had more than two-deep at running back since 2007, but maybe the lack of playing time is a cause, rather than a symptom, of the problem.
Don't Expect Fewer Punts Inside the Opponents 40-Yard-Line
You know the deal.
Iowa has the ball at the opponents' 39-yard line. It is 3rd-and-8. Kirk Ferentz opts to punt.
In the unlikeliest of circumstances, the ball is downed at the two-yard line. Under the best of realistic circumstances, the ball is downed at the 10. Under the worst of circumstances, the ball sails into the end zone and Iowa nets 19 yards.
Over the years, this has been the case with the Hawks in all situations unless Iowa is desperate.
Don't expect that to change.
That has always been Ferentz's call. It always will be Ferentz's call.