Regardless of whom Iowa’s offense faced last season, some coach by game’s end reached for the Pepto-Bismol.
Iowa State’s Matt Campbell needed a slug of it Sept. 9, after the Hawkeyes produced scoring drives of 76, 91, 94, 92 and 89 yards to topple the Cyclones 44-41 in overtime. Quarterback Nate Stanley threw for 333 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.
Two weeks later, Iowa coaches gulped from the pink bottle.
Stanley led a fourth-quarter comeback against Penn State, but the Hawkeyes — with 132 yards through three quarters — lost on the final play 21-19.
On Nov. 4, Ohio State coach Urban Meyer needed more than an antacid after dealing with Iowa’s offense.
The Hawkeyes exploded for a 55-24 win as Stanley led them to 487 total yards while throwing five touchdown passes with no picks. Meyer arrived at the postgame press conference looking like he needed an appendectomy.
But a mere seven days later, Iowa’s offense couldn’t be saved by any medicine or procedure. In a 38-14 loss to Wisconsin, that unit gained 66 yards and scored no touchdowns. Stanley was 8 of 24 with an interception, and the rushing average was less than a yard per carry.
How do you explain such wild swings in productivity over short periods?
A first-year starting quarterback (Stanley) and a first-time offensive coordinator (Brian Ferentz) are a good place to start.
“It was our first dance together … everybody,” said Ferentz, son of coach Kirk Ferentz. “Now, we’re going into Year 2, and hopefully you have a little bit more singleness of purpose, a little bit more cohesiveness, whether it’s the staff, the players and familiarity in the system.”
Stanley finished his sophomore season with 26 touchdown passes and six interceptions.
But for as many times as the 6-foot-4, 242-pound product of Menomonie, Wisconsin, electrified the scoreboard, he also was the leader when Iowa scored 10 points in a loss to Michigan State, 10 points in a loss to Northwestern, 15 in a loss to Purdue and 17 in a win over Minnesota.
Much of that comes back to Stanley’s completion rate: 55.8 percent.
“We want to make sure our completion percentage is up there over 60 percent,” Brian Ferentz said. “We were 57 last year. That’s just not good enough. The yardage isn’t as important. But I know if we’re throwing the ball efficiently, we’ll be moving the ball.”
Stanley said spring 2018 was much improved over a year ago, especially in becoming more consistent.
“Definitely with it being the second year in the system and being comfortable with the coaches,” he said. “We strive for consistency every single day. This spring, I think we took a good step forward.”
Stanley’s hometown may have caught your eye. Here’s the tale of how he slipped away from Wisconsin.
The Badger coach at the time was Gary Andersen, who favored a mobile quarterback who could run some option. That wasn’t Stanley, who committed to Iowa in November 2014.
A month later, Andersen fled to Oregon State and Wisconsin hired Paul Chryst, a former Badger quarterback and offensive coordinator who saw Stanley as a hand-in-glove fit for UW’s pro-style offense.
Chryst, who had contacted Stanley while coaching Pittsburgh, tried to flip him. But Stanley stuck with his commitment to Iowa, which pleases Ferentz.
“We have a quarterback who’s closer to the mastery of the system,” the coach said.
Iowa demands much from its quarterbacks.
“That’s why a lot of players in our system are coveted,” Ferentz said. “We ask them to think. We don’t just have everybody turn and look to the sideline and we hold up some super-cool poster board.
“We feel like our quarterback has the best seat in the house. He can see things better than any of us, and when he gets that mastery where now he can run the show and he can drive the bus from where he’s sitting, then I think we have a chance to be a little bit better.”
Two conclusions come from all this:
First, Brian Ferentz needs to do every Iowa press conference. Gotta love blunt mixed with colorful.
Second, football is the greatest team game of all except at one position — quarterback. With Stanley in that spot, the Hawkeyes have a chance to move up.
Coach: Kirk Ferentz, 20th year, 143-97
2017 record: 8-5 (4-5, T-3rd in West)
Returning starters: 15 (7 offense, 6 defense, 2 kickers)
Good news: The Hawkeyes have two tight ends destined for the NFL some day: Junior Noah Fant out of Omaha South and sophomore T.J. Hockenson. With a strong 2018, Fant likely will be an early entry into the draft. He led all tight ends nationally in yards-per-catch at 16.5, and snagged an Iowa tight end-record 11 touchdowns.
Not so good: Iowa lost all three starting linebackers, who were the Nos. 1, 2 and 3 top tacklers. Those are critical positions in this system, so the need for players such as Amani Jones (6-0, 238 pounds) to emerge at middle linebacker is crucial.
Pay attention to: The offensive line. That group lost starters James Daniels (early entry to NFL) and Sean Welch (graduation). Injuries caused a merry-go-round of lineups. Depth and health are key elements to watch up front.