The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa Football Week 4 Column | Hawkeyes appear divided in terms of offensive identity

Quarterback Cade McNamara and head coach Kirk Ferentz had slightly different takes on the team’s performance
Ayrton Breckenridge
The Hawkeyes and the Nittany Lions compete during a football game between No. 24 Iowa and No. 7 Penn State at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pa., on Saturday, Sept. 23, 2023. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes, 31-0.

STATE COLLEGE, PA – If I can guarantee one thing from Saturday, it’s that Colorado head coach Deion Sanders is relieved. While Coach Prime’s Buffaloes got creamed, 42-6, at Oregon in the afternoon, he can at least take solace in the fact that his team found the end zone. 

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz wasn’t so lucky. 

The Hawkeyes mustered just four first downs and failed to find even the red zone Saturday evening against Penn State, falling in a 31-0 drubbing on national television, all but ensuring a drop from No. 24 in the Associated Press rankings.

Call it embarrassing. Call it disheartening. Call it nauseating. Iowa’s performance at Beaver Stadium wasn’t pretty. There was no magic from 2009 in this one, but rather a cold, hard reality: the Hawkeyes were outplayed in practically every facet of the game. Such a defeat will certainly marr Iowa’s record and status in the Big Ten, as the Hawkeyes proved they can’t keep up with a better team. 

Even still, this demolition of a football game isn’t the end-all-be-all for Iowa’s season and their prospects of winning the Big Ten West. What is more concerning, however, is the lack of concern and dismissal of Saturday’s performance as ‘not like themselves.’ 

Granted it’s not like Iowa to put up a goose egg on the scoreboard, as it hasn’t been shut out since October 2000. Yet who’s to say this Iowa performance isn’t just another example of what the unit has been since the start of last season, albeit a more drastic example? 

Even though they lacked running backs Kaleb Johnson and Jaziun Patterson in this game, the Iowa rushing attack averaged just 1.2 yards per attempt. Junior back Leshon Williams and true freshman Kamari Moulton had just 12 carries between them while Terrell Washington Jr. didn’t get a touch. In fact, quarterback Cade McNamara had the longest run of the day on a scramble (in which he still didn’t look 100 percent). 

This ground game wasn’t so different from Iowa’s opening two games of the season, in which they ran for 3.1 yards per rush in the duo of contests. In fact, subtracting Patterson’s 59-yard run against Iowa State, and that average is just 2.1. 

The glaring exception to this trend was Western Michigan, but the Broncos’ defense ranks 96th in the nation in terms of total defense and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Clearly, Iowa’s ground game needs plenty of work, particularly with run blocking. Having Johnson and Patterson back will help in the future, but any fan shouldn’t be flabbergasted by the run performance on Saturday. It only took putting up zero points for that trend to become noticeable. 

As for the passing game, McNamara didn’t throw two interceptions like he did last week, but finished with a completion percentage below 50 percent for the second straight contest. When asked about this trend, the quarterback said completion percentage is caused by a variety of factors. While he isn’t incorrect in that statement, as the Hawkeye O-line didn’t afford him much protection, part of the “summary of a lot of different things,” is the execution on the part of the QB. 

Even if that means getting the ball out earlier or being able to throw the ball away instead of taking a sack, it’s on McNamara to lead this offense when the running game isn’t going. Being able to complete short passes on early downs will give Iowa more playcalling variety on third down, meaning that McNamara won’t face a six-man rush on third-and-long, as he often faced on Saturday. 

In McNamara’s three previous starts, he has averaged less than 55 percent completion percentage and hasn’t thrown for more than 200 yards in a contest. 

It would’ve been nice to hear McNamara call himself out on the completion percentage, although the quarterback did explicitly say he could’ve performed better later on his media availability. What stood out more to me was his statement that Iowa’s performance against Penn State: “It wasn’t a reflection of who we are.”

These words made it seem like Iowa’s offense was atypical when in actuality it was just the epitome of what fans have seen all season: a non-explosive run game and an inaccurate, low-yardage passing game. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum is Ferentz, who when asked if he was concerned about the offense’s performance, didn’t give an exact answer. 

“We didn’t score points and we didn’t stop them on defense, so it’s not a good thing,” Ferentz said. “I don’t have a concern level if that makes sense. Other than we got shut out tonight, there’s not much good about that.” 

Ferentz went on to say the Iowa offense has been making process in the weeks leading up to the trip to Happy Valley. Yet such progress was really evident in the running game, albeit against weaker opponents. The head coach makes it sound like this offensive game plan would’ve been successful if Iowa put up numbers on the scoreboard, and in spite of putting up none, he doesn’t have any lost faith in this game plan. 

Ferentz said he’s not a believer in changing the offensive scheme based on one bad game. Yet this “one game” wasn’t so different from Iowa’s other performances. The only contrast about this contest was that the defense and special teams didn’t produce enough to create turnovers and field positions for the Hawkeyes to put up numbers.

To answer pretty much every fan on social media, firing offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz isn’t the magic spell that can make this team an offensive powerhouse overnight. In fact, he looked like Andy Reid in that first quarter for calling the shovel pass to Erick All up the middle. All nearly had a first down on that play before fumbling. No play-caller on Earth can fix a porous offensive line and limit turnovers that essentially happen after the play occurred. 

What needs to be fixed, however, is the vision of what the Iowa offense can be, because in my point of view, the quarterback and head coach have vastly different goals for the unit. While the former appears to want a high-flying offense with explosive plays (as seen in the first quarter of Week 1), the latter appears to prefer a functional version of what the offense has historically been. In other words, while one would prefer multiple touchdowns a game, the other would prefer the minimum necessary to win. 

This clash doesn’t bode well for the future, but given the weakness of the Big Ten West, the Hawkeyes still have just as good a shot as any to be playing in Indianapolis. 

The Hawkeyes have to commit to an offensive identity outside of ineptitude, and doing so starts next week against Michigan State. Whatever persona they choose, there must be points on the board.

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About the Contributors
Matt McGowan
Matt McGowan, Pregame Editor
he/him/his Matt McGowan is The Daily Iowan's Pregame Editor. He is a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communications and American studies with a minor in sport studies.  This is his second year with the DI
Ayrton Breckenridge
Ayrton Breckenridge, Managing Visuals Editor
Ayrton Breckenridge is the Managing Visuals Editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. This is his fourth year working for the DI.