IOWA CITY, Iowa — Brian Ferentz arrived at Kinnick Stadium last Saturday in a suit and tie and spent a good 15 minutes meeting with BTN sideline reporter Lisa Byington before he changed into gameday attire and took his seat in the press box.
Ferentz, Iowa’s first-year offensive coordinator, has prepared since January for his first play-calling adventure. There’s no position on a college campus more scrutinized than offensive coordinator, something both Brian and his father, head coach Kirk Ferentz, understood all too well. Brian Ferentz also knew the hidden challenges that go into calling plays, such as the 40-second clock and hashmarks, and a new starting quarterback.
Brian Ferentz made some mistakes on Saturday, but he also flashed potential in the Hawkeyes’ 24-3 win against Wyoming. Many of Iowa’s past tendencies regarding personnel groupings, down and distance were discarded. Brian Ferentz didn’t reinvent football in his first game as coordinator, but the offense’s predictability level was down.
“Either that or dumb luck; one of the two,” Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. “We do keep track of stuff, actually, what we’re doing.
“Depending how games go, that certainly dictates some of that stuff. You’re going to steer one way or the other depending on the circumstances you’re in. Saturday, especially in the fourth quarter, we’re not going to take any chances at that point. That would have been silly.”
In Greg Davis’ five seasons as offensive coordinator, it was a given that if Iowa was in a three-wide receiver set, it would pass. Likewise, if Iowa showed a two-tight end, one-wide receiver formation, it almost always was a run play. Brian Ferentz shook up those tendencies and the results were impressive.
The Hawkeyes opened with a two-tight end, one-wide receiver grouping on eight of their 25 first-down plays. The set consists of heavy run personnel, but Brian Ferentz passed twice, one of which resulted in a 45-yard touchdown strike from quarterback Nate Stanley to wide receiver Nick Easley.
In the second and third quarters, Iowa attempted to pass on seven of 14 first-down plays. Along with Easley’s touchdown reception, Stanley connected with tight end Noah Fant on a 27-yard touchdown pass. Fant ran a seam route in a three-receiver set and was wide open. Even with an abundance of NFL talent at the position, the Hawkeyes rarely scripted that route for a tight end under Davis.
“We were just trying to see what works, trying to mix and match stuff overall,” Stanley said. “Coach Brian Ferentz has a great offensive mind, so I think we’re just trying to incorporate a lot of the stuff he’s learned from the Patriots, and obviously from his dad. We’re just trying to get to what works.”
Perhaps even more irregular was how Ferentz opted to run out of a three-receiver set. Through five games last season, Davis called passes 86 percent of the time in that formation. On Saturday, Ferentz chose to run the ball on six of the 15 plays from that set. The Hawkeyes picked up 37 rushing yards, including a 23-yard scamper by Akrum Wadley.
In other interesting developments, Wadley lined up in the slot and ran a jet sweep on the game’s first play. In the second quarter, freshman wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette ran the same play. In the third, Fant ran a tight end counter. None of those plays were productive — Smith-Marsette fumbled and the other runs combined for minus-5 yards — but it showed a willingness to do something different with skilled personnel.
“He always talks about getting his playmakers the ball, and we all know coach Brian is going to put us in the best situation possible,” Wadley said. “He’s really eager. We walked through [the jet sweep] a bunch of times. We believe in him.”
“I don’t know if it really shocked the system,” receiver Matt VandeBerg said, “but definitely different schemes and things like that, for sure.”
It hardly was a perfect performance for Brian Ferentz, especially early. On the third drive, Iowa ran its traditional outside zone twice and faced a third-and-3. Instead of continuing to run, Ferentz chose to pass out of the shotgun. Stanley nearly threw an interception and the offense sputtered. The jet sweeps and end around were novelty plays that ultimately stalled drives at critical times.
The offense didn’t help him out, either. Four turnovers — three lost fumbles and one interception — prevented any real offensive rhythm. Iowa ran only 56 plays so the sample size is small. But there were enough positive developments to foresee plenty of growth from the offense under Brian Ferentz. That in itself is a change for the better.
“I can’t remember a game there wasn’t a call you would like to have back or things you wouldn’t do differently, that type of thing,” Kirk Ferentz said. “I’m sure he feels the same way. I thought he did a good job. It wasn’t exactly a smooth road for him. I think he worked through the bumps in the road. We never plan turnovers, and that obviously affects your thinking.”
The post Brian Ferentz diversifies Iowa’s offensive tendencies, which is vital for growth this season and beyond appeared first on Land of 10.
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