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 14 Column | Hawkeye offense once again inept against top competition, and ominously shows no signs of changing

Even after being shutout for the second time since 2000, Iowa either blames external factors or says its needs to execute better, neither of which are sound solutions.
Emily Nyberg
Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz and Iowa linebacker Jay Higgins speak in a press confrence after the Big Ten football championship game between No.18 Iowa and No. 2 Michigan at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. The Wolverines defeated the Hawkeyes 26-0.

INDIANAPOLIS — What will it do next? I have an idea. The same as it always does. 

Anemic offense. Dominant defense. Clutch plays to win by a touchdown or less. This is what happened in three of the Hawkeyes’ last four games this season as they made their improbable run to Indianapolis. Don’t get me wrong, I got onto that hype train, thinking that the Hawkeyes’ recent success could finally transfer over against a good team. Yet in a state whose motto is the “Crossroads of America,” that optimistic stretch run collided head-on with cold, sobering reality. 

The Iowa football team has been likened by the media to an outdated car, one with a missing taillight, faulty brakes, and a perpetually flat tire. Throughout the season, that vehicle has consistently gotten to Point A to Point B, but when it comes to hitting the main road against ranked competition, the engine sputters. 

Look no further than September’s 31-0 drubbing at the hands of Penn State, and most recently, Iowa’s shutout loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Championship. Yes, the Hawkeyes have proven their comfortability in close games this season, but in contests where they aren’t expected to keep it tight, the wheels come off entirely, as the Iowa offense becomes immobile, leaving the other two phases of the game stranded. 

Iowa defensive back Sebastian Castro even said it himself: it would only be “extra” for the defense to force turnovers when they’re more than keeping the opposing offense at bay. Holding the Wolverines to a season-low 213 net yards and 12 first downs was half the bargain for the Hawkeyes’  “perfect formula” of winning this contest. That other half was intended to be at least some capability from the offense, but none was found on Saturday. 

Against both the Nittany Lions and the Wolverines this season, the Hawkeyes never reached the red zone and only crossed midfield less than five times. Granted, both squads rank top-10 in the nation in total defense, but putting up at double digits should be possible. After all, in Penn State and Michigan’s combined 24 games, half of their opponents reached at least ten points. In fact, only two of their opponents were shut out: Michigan State and UMass. 

I’m not saying Iowa is on par with these two schools, but it can look it sometimes. As seen on Saturday, with five straight three-and-outs on offense and only two drives of more than 20 yards. In a game where creativity was expected, the Iowa playbook looked the same as it always has. The Hawkeyes only had one offensive play of more than 15 yards. 

Even if Nick Jackson catches that ball, if Iowa isn’t flagged for blocks in the back to bring back solid returns, or if Deacon Hill’s incomplete pass was never reviewed, Iowa scores two field goals at best. 

Iowa’s winning-ugly style may work against Big Ten West foes like Northwestern and Nebraska, but not against top teams. Do you think Blake Corum is getting stuffed four straight times at the one-yard line? Or J.J. McCarthy is not going to see a linebacker drop back from the line of scrimmage and throw the ball right over the middle for an interception?  

But I think what’s most concerning is the team’s knowledge of their struggles, but their stubbornness in sticking with the system. The word “execution” is basically a knee-jerk reaction to them at this point. Deacon Hill said that buzzword after the Michigan game, but at the very least, his reaction targeted the offense and did not simply laud the opposition as unstoppable. 

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz essentially said the latter at his press conference, explaining that Michigan’s defense was more so the issue of Iowa’s offensive struggles than the unit themselves. 

I feel that the only person who does think the offense needs to be completely revamped is the former Michigan Wolverine Cade McNamara. After the loss to Penn State, he insisted to the media that Iowa’s offense in Happy Valley was “not a reflection of who we are” while Ferentz denied that any big changes needed to be made. 

After Saturday’s contest, Ferentz brought up, past offensive injuries, the 87-yard punt return from Semaj Morgan, and a replay review on Iowa’s second turnover of the game. He never said “execution” once. It all appears to be external, and ironically, Iowa vs. Everybody. 

In reality, the greatest threat to Iowa football right now is … Iowa football. 

I know Ferentz isn’t an offensive guy, but as of now, he will be the guy to choose Iowa’s next offensive coordinator and thus determine where the future is heading. Given his comments from Indianapolis, he is going “back to the drawing board,” but will most likely write a future that will be more like a mirror into the present than an open road to an evolved age. 

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About the Contributors
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
Emily Nyberg, Visual Editor
Emily Nyberg is a second-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic arts. Prior to her role as a Visual Editor, Emily was a Photojournalist, and a News Reporter covering higher education.