IOWA CITY, Iowa — When a student averages a C-minus in a class and aces an important test, a teacher usually wonders if that student cheated.
Then, after raised eyebrows and shrugged shoulders, celebrations are in order. The student then gets nervous about the attention and quickly falls apart on assignments. The worst part: The student raised everyone’s expectations and then failed dramatically.
This seems to be the Iowa offense, a C-minus unit before a 55-point blitzkrieg against Ohio State, and a failure the two weeks afterward. One week after the program’s worst offensive display since World War II, Iowa’s offense looked almost as bad in a 24-15 loss to Purdue. Yes, the Hawkeyes barely reached double figures against the Boilermakers.
The last four years, Iowa beat Purdue by at least two touchdowns. Last season, the Hawkeyes rushed for 365 yards at West Lafayette. This year, they ran for 82.
Sure, Purdue is a much better team this season than last year. The Boilermakers had cut their rushing yards allowed in half, rushing touchdowns by nearly 75 percent and yards per carry from 5.25 to 3.75. BUT … Iowa showed its capabilities against Ohio State. All the pizzazz with 5 touchdown passes and 55 points and jumping into the rankings.
It’s all a mirage. Iowa’s offense is the C-minus student with a passing grade only because of its performances against Ohio State and Iowa State. It ranked 121st last season and it was 117th before kickoff Saturday. The C-minus student’s grades are as disappointing as they are below average.
Perhaps the most frustrating part for Iowa is the noticeable talent. There’s a pair of NFL running backs in Akrum Wadley and James Butler. Quarterback Nate Stanley still has 23 touchdown passes and only 6 interceptions. Sophomore Noah Fant has 8 touchdown catches, a single-season record for tight ends. Freshman tackles Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs have more natural talent at that position than anyone in the last six or so years, save for Brandon Scherff (Washington Redskins).
But the mistakes are the most baffling part. Critical drops continued throughout the game. So did missed blocks. Iowa failed to rush for 100 yards and gave up 6 sacks. They are the same old issues that have plagued Iowa all season long.
So, how did this happen?
“That’s a great question,” Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell said. “That’s something we need to figure out — how we energized and how we had that much momentum in that game and we’re the roller-coaster. We need to be able to sustain success.”
“They were just ready to play more than we were,” Stanley said. “We just need to be more ready to play.”
Last year, Iowa had an NFL quarterback in C.J. Beathard and its passing scheme seemed to be the issue. Greg Davis finally stepped down, and Brian Ferentz took over as the offensive coordinator. Brian Ferentz has altered the passing game, but it has barely gained traction this season. Receivers are covered and the running attack has been inconsistent.
The attrition at wide receiver has trapped the Hawkeyes all season. Only one of 10 receivers recruited from 2013 through 2016 played on offense Saturday. You can’t win that way.
Iowa entered the day 12th in Big Ten offense. It was 12th last season. In the last 10 years, the Hawkeyes have ranked in the league’s bottom half in offense seven times. If Iowa can’t execute its offense the way it wants, then maybe it needs to junk what it’s currently doing. Or … perhaps even more difficult questions need to be answered.