Iowa football notebook: Evaluating the Hawkeyes during the bye week

The Iowa football team’s coordinators held a press conference on Wednesday.

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Jerod Ringwald

Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz walks off the field after a football game between Iowa and Kent State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 18, 2021. The Hawkeyes defeated the Golden Flashes 30-7. (Jerod Ringwald/The Daily Iowan)

Robert Read, Pregame Editor


The Iowa football team’s strength and conditioning coach Raimond Braithwaite had just gone over the importance of sleep to Hawkeye athletes when offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz stepped up to the podium and made a joke at his own expense.

“I’m glad he didn’t have a sleep monitor on me in the third quarter of the game Saturday, because it might have told the story,” Brian Ferentz said on Wednesday. “I might have been asleep for most of that thing.”

Then-No. 2 Iowa lost to Purdue, 24-7, on Saturday — its first defeat of the season. Above anything else, the third quarter is sticking with the 38-year old son of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz.

The Hawkeyes only had two offensive drives in the third quarter against the Boilermakers, running seven total plays. Iowa trailed 17-7 for both those drives, but had to punt both times.

Brian Ferentz mentioned that against Maryland (trailing 7-3 in the first quarter) and Penn State (trailing 17-3 in the second quarter), Iowa’s offense eventually turned the momentum and scored points despite trailing.

Iowa couldn’t do that on either of its third-quarter drives against Purdue, even after the Boilermakers gave the Hawkeyes the ball back after fumbling through the back of the end zone.

Minutes into the fourth quarter, Purdue went up 24-7 and the game was sealed.

“What we needed to do was go down and get a score,” Brian Ferentz said. “We didn’t do that. Points, at that point in the game, are of critical importance. We didn’t come up with any … It was a very disappointing loss and a very disappointing performance for us in really all facets for us offensively.”

Brian Ferentz said during this bye week, everyone on offense is taking a look in the mirror to see what can be improved, specifically himself as the play caller.

The No. 11 Hawkeyes (6-1 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) rank 118th nationally in total offense and near the bottom of the conference in yards per game, third-down efficiency, yards per play, and rushing yards per game.

Iowa didn’t score any points in the second half against Purdue.

“It’s not like when I was a kid and I was playing Tecmo Bowl and I would get pissed and hit reset,” Brian Ferentz joked. “I was looking for the reset button the other day. I just couldn’t find it.”

Quarterback Spencer Petras threw four interceptions against the Boilermakers, but Brian Ferentz noted that’s not all on him.

“I think we have to protect him better,” he said. “I think we have to get more open for him. I think we have to do some of those things. And here’s the reality — if there are makeable throws, and we don’t make them, that’s his responsibility. So we need to fix that part of it.

“How would I evaluate him after seven games? We’ve won six of them and he’s a big reason we have. And when you’re a quarterback, you’re going to be a big part of that too, just like I am.”

He added that Iowa’s offensive line, which allowed four sacks on Saturday, has continued to improve throughout the season. Starting tackles Mason Richman (freshman) and Nick DeJong (sophomore) are young, but showing growth on the outside, while true freshman Connor Colby is doing the same at right guard, he said.

After the bye week, Iowa faces a five-game stretch against Big Ten West opponents, starting with Wisconsin on Oct. 30. The Hawkeyes have not won in Madison since 2015. Winning the Big Ten West is on the line.

“The goal is always to play relevant football in November,” Brian Ferentz said. “Right now that’s all in front of us and it’s up to us.”

Getting targets more involved

Iowa wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. recorded 589 receiving yards as a redshirt freshman, but two years later only has 12 receptions through seven games.

The Hawkeyes know that’s not enough.

“If you look at the targets and you look at where we’ve tried to direct the football, we’ve tried to give Tyrone opportunities,” Brian Ferentz said. “We’ve handed him the football and found other creative ways to get him the ball. We’re going to continue to do that. He’s a good football player. I think some of the best things he does are when the ball is in his hands.”

Brian Ferentz is also intrigued with what Keagan Johnson and Arland Bruce IV — both true freshman wide receivers — can do with the ball in their hands.

Johnson has only caught six passes this season, but is averaging 31.2 yards per catch. His first catch — a 43-yard touchdown —  came in Week 4 against Colorado State. Brian Ferentz said Johnson’s ability to win in one-on-one coverage and make plays after the catch makes him a weapon for the Iowa offense.

“I’ve been really pleased with what Keagan has done,” Brian Ferentz said. “… His numbers right now per catch are pretty impressive right now. We need to find ways to get him the football more.”

Bruce has recorded 10 receptions for 72 yards this season, and Brian Ferentz said Iowa wants to keep utilizing his strengths with screen passes and throws in traffic.

Moss could play against Wisconsin

Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker said on Wednesday that starting cornerback Riley Moss could be back for the Hawkeyes’ next game against Wisconsin on Oct. 30.

Moss, a senior who has recorded four interceptions this season, missed Iowa’s loss to Purdue after suffering a knee injury while intercepting a pass against Penn State the week before. Junior Terry Roberts started at cornerback opposite Matt Hankins in Moss’s absence.

Without going into specifics about the injury, Parker seemed optimistic when asked about Moss’s availability for Iowa’s next game.

“I think he looks good,” Parker said. “He was really positive walking around out there today. I don’t know exactly how long those things take [to recover from]. But knowing him, I wouldn’t bet against him because he’s a competitor and he’s a tough kid. Whenever the doctors release him, I think that will be great for us.”

The former Ankeny Centennial prep still isn’t cleared to practice, Parker said, but wasn’t going to be on the practice field during the bye week anyway. Parker is making sure the defensive players who have seen a lot of time on the field over the first seven weeks of the season get time to rest and recover.

Special teams stressing the little things during bye week

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said during his postgame press conference after the Purdue loss that the Hawkeyes’ kickoff return unit was about the only positive aspect of his team’s performance that day.

Charlie Jones returned one kickoff 36 yards, while Ivory Kelly-Martin took one back 67 yards.

Both players provided the Hawkeyes offense with good field position. But when Iowa special teams coordinator LeVar Woods looked over the game film, he thought they could have gone for scores, too, if the plays had been executed better.

With Tory Taylor punting the ball (46.1 yards per punt and an ability do down punts inside the opponent 5-yard line) and Caleb Shudak kicking (11-for-13 field goals, 23-for-23 on extra points), along with Jones in the return game — Iowa has excelled on special teams this season.

But Woods is focused on getting better.

“Little things are what we’ve been working on,” Woods said. “We worked exclusively on kickoff return today, just trying to detail some things up. We felt like we missed some opportunities in the last game.”

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