Iowa Football: 5 Things to Expect from Greg Davis's New Up-Tempo Offense
As 2012 Hawkeye spring practices were nearing an end, new offensive line coach Brian Ferentz tweeted the following:
"Big day of practice today. Time to continue working a little no-huddle!"
In doing so, he got the Hawkeye news forums a-buzzing, as Iowa fans have been wondering what, if any, changes new Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis will bring to a Hawkeye offense that has been underachieving at best and stale at worst under former OC Ken O'Keefe.
It was an offense that even head coach Kirk Ferentz admitted, with or without a new coordinator, "needed fix."
Obviously, we won't know exactly what changes Davis will make or will be allowed to make, but based on what we can glean from various media sources, recruiting and the open spring scrimmage, we can begin to hypothesize some new wrinkles the Hawkeye offense might employ in 2012.
More Underneath Routes
One change I expect to see concerns more of a West Coast passing scheme that focuses on quick-timing passes. Among other things, this will take advantage of James Vandenberg's ability to make reads at the line, but will minimize his tendency to panic when his initial reads aren't open.
Elements of this were evident in the spring game. It is also evident when considering Iowa's newest quarterback commit, Nic Shimonek out of Corsicana, Tex.
According to Iowa blog Blackheartgoldpants, Shimonek "lacks recruiting hype," but "it's impossible to overlook the fact that Shimonek is from Texas and Iowa just hired an offensive coordinator from...Texas."
Blackheartgoldpants further posited that Shimonek was "a kid Davis saw and liked a lot and thought would be a good fit in his offense, recruiting hype (or lack thereof) be damned."
With that in mind, consider the embedded video in the attached link. It is a video of a young quarterback that is operating exclusively out of the gun—as most high school quarterbacks do these days—that doesn't seem to possess notable arm strength, but makes quick reads and gets the ball off in two-three seconds.
The routes his receivers are running are not what one will see from 2012 Iowa pass-catchers, but the method by which Shimonek gets the ball off is likely similar to what Greg Davis hopes to see from his Hawkeye quarterbacks.
In other words, the signal caller will make a pre-snap read, he will take a one or three-step drop or will already be in the gun, he will plant his feet and he will throw to a receiver running a short route.
In other words, a West Coast passing scheme.
More Varied Pass-Catchers
Under Ken O'Keefe, Iowa's most common formations were the I and the two-tight ace.
The former includes two wide receivers, a tight end, a tailback and a fullback. The latter includes two tight ends, two wide receivers and a tailback.
Typically, the order of the quarterbacks' progressions was fairly predictable, and the fullback was rarely utilized as anything other than a roving blocker. Meanwhile, the halfback was strictly used as an outlet pass-catcher.
I expect that to change under Greg Davis.
He has said that catching the ball out of the backfield is "something that's really important in what we're doing."
In effect, look for more passes not only to tailbacks, but also to fullback Brad Rogers. In fact, look for Rogers, who touched the ball four times in nine games last season, to become more of an offensive weapon.
Also, look for tight ends to run more quarterback-friendly routes than they did in Ken O'Keefe's offense. I don't mean to imply that O'Keefe didn't use his tight ends, but the way he used them was limited and slow-developing. Look for Davis to make it easier for the quarterback to get the ball to them, or, as Hawkcentral described it, "quick passes to tight ends."
In short, look for the Davis Hawks to use all five skill position players as receivers.
First of all, Iowa is not going to an Urban Meyeresque all-shotgun, all-the-time offense.
Kirk Ferentz has always run a pro-style offense, and he always will. That means the majority of the snaps will come with the quarterback under center.
Nevertheless, I do expect to see more shotgun looks, especially as long as JVB is the signal-caller.
There is no getting around the fact that Vandenberg looked more comfortable in the shotgun last year, even after four years in Ken O'Keefe's system.
It is impossible to say whether Davis specifically wants to focus on a more gun-heavy offense, or such a move will be an attempt to put his quarterback in the most advantageous position possible.
But expect to see more of the gun.
Furthermore, expect to see more rushing plays out of the gun.
The play action will always remain a vital part of the Hawkeye offense under Kirk Ferentz. As Iowa will not want to tip its hand every time it is in the gun, it will have to weave a few running plays in there to keep defenses honest.
More No-Huddle and More Effective Use of the No-Huddle
Last season, after an improbable but successful fourth-quarter comeback against Pitt, the Hawks flirted with the no-huddle offense.
It worked well against Louisiana-Monroe, but not so well in its one failed drive against Penn State, which, incidentally, was the No. 5-ranked scoring defense in the country last season.
After that, Hawkeye fans didn't see anymore no-huddle looks unless the game was on the line.
As Brian Ferentz directly stated in his tweet, Iowa will once again work some no-huddle into its offense.
Do not expect Iowa to exclusively run a no-huddle offense, a la Oregon, or more familiarly—and less effectively—Indiana.
Davis has said that "when you're in and out of" the no-huddle, it "really creates some communication problems" for opposing defenses.
In other words, look for Iowa to use both its standard "slow" offense, as well as the up-tempo offense depending upon whether Davis feels it puts the Hawks at an advantage over the other team.
This was the great failure of Ken O'Keefe's hurry-up offense. He used it exclusively as a passing offense, generally employing it with a three-wide look on the field.
The problem with that is the defense usually already had a nickel or dime defense on the field. In effect, it was prepared to defend against the pass. In that case, O'Keefe should have taken advantage of the mismatch and run right at them, but he never did.
Same Running Scheme
Iowa runs a zone-blocking scheme. For those that have heard of a zone-blocking scheme, but don't fully understand it, Pro Football Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz famously described it as being like trains on a track, all moving in the same direction. Netplaces further describes that metaphorical train as blocking "anyone in their way, pushing whichever defender they see....knocking down everything in their path and not letting anyone cross."
The NFL's Washington Redskins under Mike Shanahan run a zone-blocking scheme, which explains why they chose former Iowa lineman Adam Gettis in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL draft. Despite being decidedly undersized for an NFL guard—Gettis weighs 290 pounds; a typical NFL guard is closer to 315 pounds—Gettis is well-acquainted with the zone blocking scheme.
According to Kirk Ferentz via the Washington Examiner, Gettis compensates for his lack of size "with strength and technique."
Iowa's running scheme will not change with the new offensive coordinator, though; as previously mentioned, it might feature more runs out of the shotgun.
The passing scheme, as previously mentioned, will undergo some changes. Moreover, for those that are familiar with the NFL, that passing scheme will resemble elements of the New England Patriots' passing scheme.
That scheme features quick, short passes that take advantage of Tom Brady's accuracy and quick release, but minimize his lack of arm strength. It also features tight ends and a hurry-up offense.
Meanwhile, the running game will more closely resemble the Denver Broncos of the late 1990s and 2000s or the new-look, Mike Shanahan-coached Washington Redskins. Or, for that matter, the Hawkeyes as they've always been under Kirk Ferentz.
It's impossible to say whether Davis will focus on this passing scheme to play to James Vandenberg's strengths, but will alter the basic scheme with a different signal-caller. After all, though Texas fans had their issues with Davis, most agree that he did a good job playing to his various quarterbacks' strengths.
Moreover, James Vandenberg is not Tom Brady, and Damon Bullock, or whoever the Hawks' top running back is, will not be Terrell Davis.
Nevertheless, the possibilities are exciting—more exciting than any Iowa offense has looked in a long time.