Opinion | Some part of Iowa’s no good, very bad offense needs to change

Iowa’s defense and special teams units were far from perfect against Michigan, but it was the offense that let down the Hawkeyes… again.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz talks with Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras during the Big Ten Championship game between No. 13 Iowa and No. 2 Michigan at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Saturday, Dec. 4, 2021. The Iowa offense recorded 279 total yards compared to Michigan’s 461. The Wolverines became Big Ten Champions after defeating the Hawkeyes, 42-3.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

INDIANAPOLIS — Leftover maize and blue confetti sprinkled the turf at Lucas Oil Stadium in the hours after Saturday’s Big Ten Championship Game. The stands were empty. Event staff members hurriedly started removing the “Iowa” lettering and Tigerhawk logo from one of the end zones to prepare the venue for the next Colts game.

Mercifully, both for Iowa and the Hawkeye fans subject to watching the game, signs of four-plus hours of domination were starting to disappear as the end zone was scrubbed clean.

Those workers could teach Iowa a thing or two about spending time in the end zone.

Apparently, the 123rd best offense in the nation is enough to win the Big Ten West. A Big Ten championship, though? Not so much. No. 13 Iowa (10-3 overall, 7-3 Big Ten) suffered the program’s worst postseason loss ever and surrendered its most points since the 2016 Rose Bowl in an embarrassing 42-3 defeat to No. 2 Michigan (12-1, 9-1). Iowa still hasn’t won the Big Ten outright since 1985, or at all since tying for the title in 2004. Iowa’s defense wasn’t great against Michigan, and its special teams made crucial errors.

However, the lingering thought after the latest dud of an offensive performance was how this Hawkeye team even won 10 games with one of the worst offenses in recent memory.

“As you can imagine, obviously disappointed when you put so much work into it and it doesn’t go as you planned,” said Iowa quarterback Alex Padilla, who took over for Spencer Petras in the second half after the starter suffered some sort of torso injury.

Has Iowa’s plan really done much good this season, though?

The Hawkeyes started the season 6-0 and reached No. 2 in the Associated Press Poll. Then, in its last seven games, Iowa scored nine offensive touchdowns. Nine. Over 13 games, Iowa is averaging 297.5 yards per game, the lowest in 23 years under Kirk Ferentz.

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Rushing the ball? Iowa averages 3.27 yards per attempt (worst since 2004). Passing? Only 6.17 yards per attempt (worst since 2012). Iowa has two passing touchdowns in its last seven games. The Hawkeyes are only completing 54.3 percent of their passes (worst since 2007) and are being outgained by 45 yards per game.

Among all 130 FBS teams, only Indiana (2-10), Temple (3-9), Navy (3-8), Southern Mississippi (3-9), Connecticut (1-11), Colorado (4-8) and New Mexico (3-9) are ranked below Iowa in terms of total offense.

Saturday was just the latest example of Iowa’s offensive dysfunction.

Iowa ran 26 plays in Michigan territory and scored three (3) points the whole game in front of a Big Ten title game-record 67,183 fans. Are refunds available? A halfback pass from Gavin Williams that was intended for fullback Monte Pottebaum on Iowa’s first offensive drive was probably the closest the Hawkeyes came to scoring a touchdown.

“The red zone is hard as it is because the field is so shrunk with so many people in a condensed area,” tight end Sam LaPorta, who caught six passes for 62 yards against Michigan, said. “A lot of good play calls, you can put those out the window. It’s a much different play book than the rest of the field. But I don’t know, it just seems the last couple weeks we couldn’t really get much going in the red zone, which hurts.”

And sure, Iowa’s offense wasn’t alone in struggling on Saturday.

The Hawkeye defense allowed 451 yards and six touchdowns, including 60-plus-yard scores on consecutive Wolverine plays in the first quarter. On special teams, kicker Caleb Shudak missed an early field goal, and Tory Taylor had a punt blocked. But those two phases of the game settled in for Iowa. The Hawkeyes had the ball five times after going down 14-3. Iowa punted on all five of those possessions.

Iowa’s defense, after allowing early big plays, forced two turnovers in the second quarter and stalled the Wolverines briefly. Taylor started pinning Michigan back deep in its own territory.

But Iowa’s offense never showed up. Go figure.

RELATED: Iowa fails to score a touchdown in blowout Big Ten Championship loss to Michigan

A win on Saturday would have clinched Iowa a conference title and sent the Hawkeyes to the Rose Bowl. Instead, Iowa suffered its worst loss since 1999.

Ferentz’s team overachieved and won 10 games, making a Jan. 1 bowl game in the process, in spite of a horrendous offense. A defense that leads the nation in takeaways, combined with perhaps the best combination of punter, kicker, and return specialist in the nation, elevated Iowa above the better-than-average team it might actually be.

“I’m not sure the score is totally representative of the two teams, but that’s just the way it went tonight,” Ferentz said. “… A lot of it was Michigan’s defense. They’ve got a good defense.”

Yes, Michigan’s defense is good. But Saturday felt pretty representative of Iowa’s offense, didn’t it?

Neither Petras nor Padilla looked particularly impressive under center and the run game was practically nonexistent. We may be at the point where the Hawkeyes should consider peeking into the transfer portal for a QB. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz has been, well… the numbers above answer that. But really, he’s only doing what his father/boss is asking of him.

This column isn’t calling for anyone’s job, or suggesting some revolutionary style of offense.

But something needs to change. Iowa’s offense can’t continue to look so uninspired. Michigan brought in a new co-offensive coordinator to help revamp the offense after struggles moving the ball last year. That seems to have worked out for the College Football Playoff-bound Wolverines. Iowa could learn a thing or two from that. Adapting an offense to your players and abandoning what isn’t working can be productive.

Year after year, the Hawkeyes produce elite defenses and reliable special teams units prone to making big plays. And the offense is just good enough to get to eight wins or so. That’s just who Iowa is. Maybe just once, though, having an offense to rely on heading into big games would be nice for the Hawkeyes.

If Iowa wants to win crucial games like it played in on Saturday, it needs one.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.