Big Ten Breakdown 2012: Iowa Hawkeyes, Part 2, Offense

David Fidler Correspondent IJune 25, 2012

TEMPE, AZ - DECEMBER 30:   The Iowa Hawkeyes huddle up around quarterback James Vandenberg #16 during the Insight Bowl against the Oklahoma Sooners at Sun Devil Stadium on December 30, 2011 in Tempe, Arizona.  The Sooners defeated the Hawkeyes 31-14.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Last week, I got my feet wet with Iowa, looking at the program, what it has done over the last five years and what that might tell us about what the Hawks will do this season.

This week, I'll look at the 2012 Iowa offense.

Offensive Overview

2011 scoring offense: 27.5 PPG (sixth in the conference), total offense: 372.5 YPG (seventh), rushing YPC: 3.95 (t-ninth), passing efficiency: 136.62 (fifth)

Average scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: 7.0

Best scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: Second (2008)

Worst scoring offense conference ranking over last five years: 11th (2007)

Returning starters: QB James Vandenberg, FB Brad Rogers, WR Keenan Davis, TE C.J. Fiedorowicz, TE Zach Derby, C James Ferentz, OL Matt Tobin, OL Nolan MacMillan (inj.)

Open Positions: RB, WR, OL

Offensive Formation: Pro

Offensive Philosophy: Power

Passing Scheme: Has been play-action/big-play, but is likely to be West Coast

Rushing scheme: Zone

Offensive Breakdown

Following the frustrating 2010 season, I wrote a series of articles in which I tried to assess what went wrong with a team that began the year in the Top 10, but finished the regular season with five losses.

When looking at the offense and specifically erstwhile offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe's part in the offense, I wrote, "It is highly unlikely that Ferentz is going to fire O'Keefe, so if there are to be positive steps, it will have to come from O'Keefe himself."

As it turns out, Ferentz never fired O'Keefe, though I admit, when I wrote that, I felt O'Keefe wouldn't leave Iowa City until Ferentz did.

Nevertheless, Ferentz is still in Iowa City while Ken O'Keefe (via is in Miami, FL.

The new coordinator is former Texas OC Greg Davis, which leaves Hawkeye fans with two key questions.

Firstly, how will Davis's play-calling affect an offense that Jon Miller of described as  "inconsistent," and unable to "carry its own weight?"

Secondly, has Ken O'Keefe been to blame for that underachieving offense or has O'Keefe been the guy that implemented Kirk Ferentz's orders. After all, no play was ever called that Ferentz hasn't okayed.

Hopefully, this season will help to answer the second question.

As for the first question, I've given my more detailed two cents, but the long and the short of it is that the running game won't change at all. It will still be Ferentz's trademark zone blocking scheme, though there will be more runs out of the shotgun.

Meanwhile, the passing game will take a more West Coast approach. That means more underneath routes, more timing routes and more varied pass-catchers. Davis also noted there will be more shotgun and (via The Des Moines Register) some no-huddle offense, though Iowa will not become a no-huddle team.

The good news is that Davis is known for adjusting his offense to work with his quarterback. At Texas, he coached Major Applewhite, Chris Simms, Vince Young and Colt McCoy—all different quarterbacks and all of whom were successful in Austin. Moreover, much of what he seems to want to do at Iowa fits in with Hawkeye quarterback James Vandenberg's skill set.

The bad news is that, to many Texas fans (via the Texas blog, Burnt Orange Nation), Greg Davis is known for being overly conservative, for being too complicated when the game called for simplicity and vice versa and for rigidly sticking to his game plan when the game situation called for him to deviate from it.

In other words, for being a lot like the Ken O'Keefe Iowa fans came to know


Senior James Vandenberg's 2011—his first year as a starter—was a season of ups and downs.

His statistics at home: 61.4 completion percentage, 1,798 yards, 17 touchdowns, three interceptions, 158.51 passer efficiency rating.

His statistics away from Kinnick Stadium: 55.8 completion percentage, 1,224 yards, eight touchdowns, four interceptions, 117.37 passer efficiency rating.

His statistics against unranked teams: nine games, 63 percent completion rate, 2,191 yards, 20 touchdowns, four interceptions, 157.22 passer efficiency rating.

His statistics against ranked teams: four games, 51 percent Completion rate, 831 yards, five touchdowns, three interceptions, 105.65 passer efficiency rating.

One has to expect worse statistics against ranked foes—that's why they're ranked. Nevertheless, that great of a disparity is cause for concern.

JVB had the second-worst efficiency rating against ranked teams among quarterbacks that started at least eight games in 2011—Penn State's Matt McGloin had the worst—and the second-greatest disparity between performances against ranked and unranked teams—Nebraska's Taylor Martinez was the worst with a 56-point differential.

JVB can be one of the best signal-callers and the best pure passer in the conference if he can bring consistency to his game.

Vandenberg's backups are redshirt freshman Jake Rudock and JUCO transfer Cody Sokol.

JVB's effectiveness will determine the success of the team. In 2012, as goes Vandenberg, so go the Hawkeyes.

Big Ten Position Group Ranking: Second

Running Backs

For the fourth time in five seasons, Iowa will break in a new starting halfback.

Despite Kirk Ferentz's preference for one featured back, the Hawks will go with a running back by committee.

The top two options are redshirt sophomore De'Andre Johnson—18 career carries—and true sophomore Damon Bullock—10 career carries—the latter of whom spent much of last year at receiver.

True freshman Greg Garmon, the No. 19 running back in the country according to Rivals and No. 15 according to Scout, was in line to get carries this year, but a recent arrest for drug possession (via The Cedar Rapids Gazette) might derail his early playing time.

The other true freshman in the mix is Cedar Falls' Barkley Hill, who doesn't boast the star power or offer sheet of Garmon, but his one-cut running style is ideal for Iowa's zone blocking scheme.

Meanwhile, Brad Rogers is the best returning fullback in the conference and will help pave rushing lanes for the tailbacks. Moreover, Greg Davis (via The Cedar Rapids Gazette) singled Rogers out as, "not only a good player, he’s a good leader, and a good guy in the locker room."

Big Ten Position Group Ranking: 10th


Senior Keenan Davis is the second-most productive returning receiver in the conference. In his first season as a starter, he had 50 receptions, 713 yards and four touchdowns. He did this while missing one game with an injury and being dinged up the final four regular season games.

This season, Davis will need more consistency given the departure of record-setting Iowa receiver, Marvin McNutt. In 2012, all defenses will look to shut down Davis, and he will have to deliver.

He will get help from Kevonte Martin-Manley, who had a strong freshman season, posting 30 catches for 323 yards and three touchdowns in a reserve role. KMM (via has acknowledged that he expects an increased role, and the Hawks can have the most dangerous pass-catchers in the conference if he does step up.

The depth chart is wide open after K-Mart with all other Iowa receivers combining for six career receptions. Most notable is junior Don Shumpert, who has yet to record a collegiate catch, but was the most visible receiver at the spring game, both for good and bad reasons.

Iowa is known for its tight-end play, but the 2011 tight ends had their worst statistical showing since 2003.

The Hawks' top pass-catching tight end turned out to be C.J. Fiedorowicz, who finished the season with 16 receptions for 167 yards and three touchdowns. He grabbed 14 of those catches in the final six games, as he did not begin the year as one of the top two tight ends.

Expect Fiedorowicz to have a breakout season in 2012.

Senior Zach Derby—12 receptions for 117 yards—is not the playmaker that C.J. Fed is, but he is a solid second option.

Sophomore Ray Hamilton and redshirt freshmen Henry Krieger-Coble and Jake Duzey will fill out the depth chart.

Big Ten Position Group Ranking: Second

Offensive Line

Kirk Ferentz and Iowa—and not Wisconsin, Michigan or Ohio State—have had the most successful tradition of offensive line production in the Big Ten over the last decade.

However, the graduation of three full-time offensive linemen, two of whom were drafted and one of whom would have been drafted had he not pulled his pectoral muscle in the NFL Scouting Combine will make reloading something of an issue. Furthermore, Iowa will break in a new offensive line coach in Brian Ferentz.

The good news is that Iowa has a number of "part-time" starters ready to step in.

Senior Matt Tobin gained 10 starts last season with mixed results. Sophomore Brandon Scherff started three games, also with mixed results, but as of the spring game he was penciled in as the starting left tackle. Ferentz's No. 3 (James) is a two-year starter at center that will vie for all-conference honors this year.

Much of the success of the 2012 offensive line is on the shoulders of Nolan MacMillan. MacMillan earned six starts in 2010 and played well. The problem is he has battled injuries since then, missing last season with a sports hernia.

If MacMillan can get healthy, he will be the next great Iowa O-lineman.

One of the biggest surprises of the spring was the emergence of redshirt freshman Austin Blythe, who was listed as a starting guard over a number of more experienced players—at least as concerned time in the program.

Otherwise, Iowa has a good deal of depth with juniors Conor Boffeli and Brett Van Sloten, sophomore Andrew Donnal and sophomore JUCO transfer Eric Simmons.

The only one of the above that can be written on the depth chart in ink is James Ferentz. Otherwise, it won't be surprising to see any of the aforementioned linemen gain quality playing time.

Big Ten Position Group Ranking: Fourth

Offensive Outlook

I am cautiously optimistic regarding Iowa's offense this season, as most of the changes that Greg Davis appears to be implementing work toward James Vandenberg's strengths.

Moreover, Brian Ferentz's youth and vibrancy will have a positive effect on the line and the entire offense.

C.J. Fed will have a big year, and if Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley can play well, the Iowa pass-catchers will be among the league's best.

That said, the offensive line still has question marks as does OC Greg Davis. Also, and most importantly, James Vandenberg has to prove he can carry the team away from Kinnick, and the AIRBHG (Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God) saga has gotten absurd and shows no sign of subsiding.

Finally, the $64,000 question: Was Ken O'Keefe holding back the Iowa offense or was Kirk Ferentz holding back Ken O'Keefe?

Despite a decent amount of turnover, I'm expecting the 2012 Iowa offense to be two-to-three points-per-game better than the 2011 group.

In the end, it will have to be better because the defense will be a work in progress.

Coming next Monday, an overview and breakdown of Iowa's defense.

Full disclosure: Unlike the rest of this series, which takes an in-depth look at each Big Ten team, I am an Iowa fan. I hope that has not colored the way I looked at the Hawks or any of their opponents. I pride myself on being unbiased, but one who is biased is generally unaware of his active prejudices.


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