Iowa Football: 5 Biggest Offensive Issues Facing the Hawkeyes in 2012
The Iowa Hawkeyes, under head coach Kirk Ferentz, have a history of riding staunch defenses and dependable special teams to a winning record.
It's arguable how much of the blame for the offense's underachievement falls on erstwhile and embattled offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe or the notoriously conservative Ferentz.
Either way, O'Keefe has decided to move on to the NFL, and Iowa has a new offensive coordinator in Greg Davis, not to mention a new offensive line coach in Brian Ferentz.
It has been fairly well established that the typically hard-nosed Iowa defense will be a work-in-progress in 2012, especially along the line.
Consequently, it will be up to the offense to put points on the board and keep the defense off the field. If it is successful, the Hawkeyes will be successful. If it isn't, it's likely going to be a long year.
The raw tools are there for a strong Iowa offense, but there are still some lingering issues.
What follows are the five biggest ones.
New Offensive Coordinator
On February 27th, long-time Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis was officially named Iowa's OC—just the second OC in Kirk Ferentz's tenure.
Davis was much maligned in Texas. According to Texas blog, BurntOrangeNation, "He had a maddening tendency to be too complicated when it was time to be simple and too simple when we needed some wrinkles."
He also "failed to attack opponents' weak points" and "his random screen calls left much to be desired."
On the other hand, he did a good job of working to the strengths of his different quarterbacks—most notably Major Applewhite, Chris Simms, Vince Young and Colt McCoy. Between 1999-2008, all of his offenses finished amongst the top 20 in scoring, with six finishing in the top 10.
However successful Davis might or might not be, there will be a transition.
There will be new terminology for the players to learn, a new dynamic and nothing less than a distinctly different playbook.
According to Cedar Rapids Gazette's Marc Morehouse's unofficial spring game stat line, quarterback James Vandenberg completed 12-of-30 passes for 106 yards.
That is hardly the production one would like to see from a fifth-year senior playing in the final spring of his career.
Nevertheless, much of it had to do with the aforementioned new terminology, new dynamic and new playbook.
Hopefully, all of these transitional issues will be ironed out by the time the football season opens up.
College football does not officially keep statistics for dropped passes. In effect, unless one is counting at home, there is no way to compare the Hawks to other teams.
Nonetheless, all fans have at least watched Iowa's opponents, if not other games that don't involve the Hawkeyes, and one thing is palpable: dropped balls plagued Iowa last season.
The botched passes went from the third-string tight end to inaugural Richter-Howard Award winner, Marvin McNutt.
It was a substantial problem in the bowl game for top-returning receiver Keenan Davis, who, by my count, had two drops and one fumble.
Unfortunately, it was still on display in the spring game. Davis was limited by an injury, but other Iowa receivers dropped far too many balls for receiver coach Erik Campbell's liking.
According to Morehouse, after the scrimmage, Campbell had junior wide receiver Don Shumpert, "take a ball and do five push-ups every five yards all the way down the field."
The drops will have to be remedied this season.
Regardless who the OC is, there is zero room for mental mistakes as long as Ferentz is the coach.
That means no penalties, no backward plays, no turnovers and no dropped balls.
Inconsistent Quarterback Play
James Vandenbergs' 2011 statistics: 404 ATT, 237 COMP, 58.7 PCT, 3,022 YDS, 7.5 YDS/ATT, 25 TD, 7 INT, 138.44 quarterback efficiency rating.
Pretty impressive for a first year starter, but in JVB's case, stats do not tell the entire story.
However, split stats do give one a good idea of the JVB that Hawkeye fans came to know in 2011.
Vandenberg's home stats: 7 G, 207 ATT, 127 COMP, 61.4 PCT, 1,798 YDS, 8.7 YDS/ATT, 17 TD, 3 INT, 158.51 quarterback efficiency rating.
Vandenberg's non-Kinnick stats: 6 G, 197 ATT, 110 COMP, 55.7 PCT, 1,224 YDS, 6.2 YDS/ATT, 8 TD, 4 INT, 117.37 quarterback efficiency rating.
Vandenberg's numbers against unranked foes: 9 G, 257 ATT, 162 COMP, 63.0 PCT, 2,191 YDS, 8.5 YDS/ATT, 20 TD, 4 INT, 157.22 efficiency rating.
Vandenberg's numbers against ranked foes: 4 G, 147 ATT, 75 COMP, 51.0 PCT, 831 YDS, 5.7 YDS/ATT, 5 TD, 3 INT, 105.65 efficiency rating.
There are also no stats to back this up, but when JVB's first option was blanketed he often resembled this.
Looking toward 2012, I'm not calling for Vandenberg to duplicate his home-game, unranked numbers against every opponent.
Nevertheless, the Vandenberg that showed up against Penn State, Nebraska or in the first half of the Oklahoma game is unacceptable for a fifth-year senior.
Inexperience at Tailback
Hawkeye fans know the deal, so I won't rehash it.
The bottom line is that all healthy and available Hawkeye running backs boast the following career statistics: 42 ATT, 182 YDS, 4.33 YPC, zero TD. They have also combined for five receptions, 42 receiving yards and zero touchdowns.
The Hawks' most experienced returning and healthy tailback—in terms of touches—is sophomore De'Andre Johnson, who has touched the ball 18 times in his collegiate career.
Other healthy and available tailbacks will (hopefully) include sophomore Damon Bullock, true freshmen Greg Garmon and Barkley Hill, and a host of walk-ons.
In short, the tailbacks may or may not be long on talent, but they are short on experience.
This is a big deal, as blocking and ball handling—learned skills—are key elements for Kirk Ferentz's running backs.
Kirk Ferentz's Conservatism
The million dollar question facing the Hawks this season concerns the offense. More specifically, was Ken O'Keefe responsible for the O's' far-too-often moribund play, or did the blame fall at the feet of the head man?
"Conservative," as I noted after 2011's loss to Iowa State, often isn't the appropriate word for Ferentz. "Pathologically risk averse" is occasionally more appropriate.
Moreover, Offtackleempire recently made the point that, "Kirk Ferentz often is his own worst enemy. He coaches up recruits and has proven that there is talent on both sides of the ball. His conservative nature and extremely buttoned up culture makes for some low morale decisions and you can often feel it on the faces of his players."
With all of that in mind, here we are. Even if Ferentz didn't instigate it, the staff did get shaken up this offseason.
Most notably, the Hawks have a new offensive coordinator who may or may not have previously been held back by his former boss at Texas.
It will be the new OC's job to breathe life into what has become a stale offense, but will Ferentz allow him to do his job?
We'll know next season, perhaps as soon as the Hawks have the ball at their own 25-yard-line with 90 seconds to go in the half and are clinging to a seven-point lead.
Sit on the ball or put some faith in your offense?