IOWA CITY, Iowa — Brian Ferentz is Iowa’s offensive coordinator. He isn’t an engineer, architect or a mathematician.
But upon rewatching the 17-10 overtime loss to Northwestern on Saturday one thing becomes clear.
Ferentz needs to become all three when it comes to reviving the running game.
Let’s explain why.
The run game was bad, gaining only 89 yards, and was the central reason why the Hawkeyes scored only 10 points. Land of 10 broke it all down here.
Instead of rehashing the same issues again, let’s look at what worked because an interesting trend emerged: Seven times Iowa rushed for at least 5 yards and only once did it come against an eight-man box.
Let’s compare it to when Iowa runs its ‘22’ personnel, or two tight ends, one fullback and one running back.
|5-yd or more run defenders in box||22 personnel defenders in the box|
Sometimes football is as simple as arithmetic. The fewer defenders in the box, the better the Hawkeyes run the football. It’s not rocket science, but this is the challenge for Ferentz going forward.
For the run game to come together it’s on the offensive coordinator to design, build and create situations where the running game faces seven or fewer defenders in the box.
The Hawkeyes aren’t breaking new ground here. Offensive coordinators try to do it every week, but it’s become vitally important for these introverted Hawkeyes. They don’t do their best work in a crowd of people.
Iowa needs every advantage it can right now and that comes in the form of a numbers game. The Hawkeyes first run of at least 5 yards came out of a spread look with three wide receivers to the left and a tight end to the right. Running back Akrum Wadley gains 6 yards as only six defenders are in the box. If Northwestern’s Brett Walsh doesn’t trip up Wadley the play goes for 10-plus yards.
This is the kind of look Iowa needs going forward. Going heavy and loading up on tight ends and fullbacks creates the opposite look. Five times Iowa used its 22 personnel or motioned into it from a three-tight end look on run plays. Each time, the Wildcats responded by moving its defenders closer to the line of scrimmage.
|Down, distance||Yds Gained||Defenders in box|
Yes, the longest run of the day came from 22 and there will be more on that in a second, but it’s an outlier. The other four runs averaged 1.0 yards per carry on players where as many as 10 defenders stood in the box or just outside of it.
Some years, the Hawkeyes can move the chains against these kinds of defensive looks. This Iowa offense can’t do that right now, not consistently. The only time it did was on an inside zone where center James Daniels and offensive guard Sean Welsh pushed Northwestern’s Tyler Lancaster off the line. The hole opens up when the fullback kicks out a charging linebacker and Wadley dashes 22 yards downfield.
Iowa loves 22 personnel, but it’s not doing much for the running game. In fact, it produced better results in the passing game as the Hawkeyes completed both passes attempted in the alignment.
It appears the Hawkeyes realize rushing out of 22 personnel isn’t the best option. They only attempted five runs out of the formation as most of their success came in other formations.
|Formation||Number of 5-yd runs|
One of the 21 personnel runs was a jet sweep to wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette. It’s an atypical 21 personnel call, a far cry from the inside and outside zones usually called in this formation.
The jet sweep is the kind of different thinking and scheming the Hawkeyes will need out of the run game going forward.
That is on Ferentz. He did find an overloaded tight end formation that repeatedly worked against Northwestern. Iowa used it on its only touchdown and on the game-tying field goal drive in the fourth quarter.
In also helped create the kind of schematic edge Iowa needs in the running game in overtime. Both tight ends line up to the left and only six defenders are in the box. Two others are hovering just off the left edge, but they won’t factor into the play.
Watch the empty space to the right of the middle linebacker on the second level. This is the kind of hole Iowa can exploit with it’s inside zone play.
The run goes for 4 yards. It’s an alright outcome, setting up a fourth-and-short when the Hawkeyes need to move the chains to extend the game.
Iowa won’t bust a big run every time it sees six defenders near the line of scrimmage. But the more often it does the odds of a 5-yard run happening increases.
It’s on Ferentz to keep creating those situations going forward.
Defending Iowa’s defense
No Josey Jewell. No Brandon Snyder. No problem for the Iowa defense.
The pregame concern about how the Hawkeyes would play without Jewell (shoulder) and Snyder (knee) turned out to be overstated.
The defense more than held it’s own. It was a victory-worthy effort. Northwestern only gained 339 yards and the run defense picked up where it left off in the second half of the Illinois game. Northwestern rushed for 147 yards but needed 46 carries to do so. The 3.2 yards per carry was more than acceptable.
The Hawkeyes played their typical bend, but don’t break defense. Six times Northwestern crossed the 50-yard line, but Iowa held firm when it needed too. The Wildcats entered the red zone twice in regulation, getting only 10 points.
The only problem was the defense wore down.
This was a three-pronged issue. First, Iowa’s offense didn’t do anything to help the defense stay off the field in the final three quarters.
A steady stream of three-and-outs is the last thing a defense wants from its offense.
Secondly, Northwestern can push the tempo and did in the second half. Choosing to wear out defenses is an effective tactic.
Finally, the injuries limiting Iowa’s depth and ability to counteract the first two problems. The results were evident up front. Iowa controlled the line of scrimmage better in the first quarter than in the third or fourth quarter and it’s a reason why the Wildcats scored enough points in the second half and overtime to win the game.
Still, when factoring everything together the defense performed better than expected considering the circumstances.
The Hawkeyes outgained the Wildcats 128-29 in the first quarter, but didn’t capitalize on it.
Iowa’s offense looked its best on its first two possessions, moving into Northwestern territory each time, but failing to produce points. An early score or two likely changes the outcome of the game. Instead, Iowa gave Northwestern the opportunity to stay in the contest.
Why did the Hawkeyes find early success? Partially, because four of the seven runs of 5-yards or more came on those two drives. Iowa needs to run the ball if the offense is to succeed.
That’s why Brian Ferentz needs to become part football coach, engineer, architect and mathematician to create favorable matchups for the ground game.