Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz’s first media press conference of 2023 covered a variety of topics. including Wednesday’s National Signing Day additions and the Hawkeyes’ activity in the NCAA transfer portal since early December.
But one subject dominated the session: Ferentz’s evaluation of Iowa’s offense in 2022 and what, if any, changes were coming.
Per Ferentz, there won’t be any significant changes to the staff. At least for now.
“As I stand here today, I anticipate no changes in our staff moving forward,” Ferentz said. “That’s my plan certainly. I think we do have a terrific staff, and I thought they did a terrific job last year in tough circumstances and navigated us through I think some big challenges.
“We’ll give the coaches a couple days off and then start the next phase of our program, which is program review,program research, and start planning for the season ahead.”
But in that same breath, Ferentz didn’t excuse the poor offensive performance from last season that put a lid on the success that Iowa could’ve seen. The Hawkeyes ranked 130th nationally in total offense at 251.6 yards per game, which is the lowest figure by a Big Ten team since Ferentz took over in 1999, and 123rd in points per game (17.9).
“The bottom line is the offense is about moving the ball consistently and scoring enough points to win,” Ferentz said. “The numbers bear out that it wasn’t good enough. And the other part about that is we’re well aware of that and we own it. Nobody is running from that by any stretch of the imagination. The whole idea right now is to move forward and fix it. That’s where our thoughts are.”
The majority of the scrutiny of the Hawkeyes’ offense lies with offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, who has been in that role since 2017. And under his tenure, Iowa’s average total offense rank sits at 108th nationally.
Kirk Ferentz offered several defenses of his son’s performance, citing a 29 points per game average in his first four years as coordinator (which averages to 60th nationally) and overall team success. Iowa holds the third most wins in the Big Ten over the last five years, behind Ohio State and Michigan, and is one of five teams that’s won at least eight games or the equivalent in winning percentage in every season since 2015.
As to what’s derailed the Hawkeye offense recently, Ferentz pointed to several challenges that made it difficult to evaluate the entire offensive staff, not just the offensive coordinator.
“I think the staff did a great job,” Ferentz said. “Because it wasn’t easy (last) year.”
Ferentz noted that the wide receiver room’s setbacks were significant. Charlie Jones, who went on to All-Big Ten honors at Purdue, transferred after spring practice, leaving Iowa with only six scholarship receivers. However, by the opening game, only one in Arland Bruce IV was healthy enough to play. Veterans Nico Ragaini and Diante Vines suffered significant injuries that set them back early and promising players like Brody Brecht and Keagan Johnson couldn’t maximize their potential due to nagging injuries.
But perhaps the biggest issue was on the offensive line, which is foundational to Iowa’s success. And that’s a unit that’s experienced unusual hardships. Ferentz pointed to the youth of the offensive line over the last two seasons, which has seen several freshmen earn significant playing time. Additionally, promising prospects like David Davidkov and Cody Ince saw their careers end early to medical issues and another veteran in Justin Britt who has been hampered by injury.
These factors combined to make it difficult to evaluate the quarterback position in 2022, which was another problem area.
“The facts are that when you can’t do things up front, kind of cascades to the entire offense,” Ferentz said. “It’s hard to run an offense when you can’t block with proficiency. But the one thing I will say about our guys last year is they worked extremely hard. I know they’re being well-coached and they have a high level of pride in seeing improvement.”
Ferentz offered optimism that Iowa’s offense will improve in 2023. He said that the process of improving has already begun, including transfer portal additions at quarterback (Cade McNamara), tight end (Erick All) and offensive line (Rusty Feth, Daijon Parker). The Hawkeyes also added wide receiver Seth Anderson and will likely seek more help after spring practice.
The conversations about scheme changes will begin next week. Ferentz said that the offense won’t be “radically different” but will have tweaks, and McNamara will have a say in what changes could be effective.
“I’m looking at everything involved, and we all can get better, starting with me,” Ferentz said. “I’m not walking away from that at all. But I think we’ve got the right guys. I guess that’s what I’m saying, whether it’s players, coaches, and eager to get to work.”
Ferentz pointed to Iowa’s history throughout Wednesday’s press conference. He referenced points from as early as the 1980s to as recently as 2009 where the Hawkeyes have been in ruts but have worked their way out of them. His coaching upbringing through legendary coach Hayden Fry didn’t lend itself to firing assistants and Ferentz stated that he will not start now. There’s a chance that history will not repeat itself in 2023 but Ferentz is betting on those within the building once again.
“The idea is to be a championship-level team,” Ferentz said. “And that’s easier to talk about than do, but it takes a lot of things falling right, especially here. It’s not easy. But it’s doable because we’ve done it.
“That’s what we’re trying to do. Part of my responsibility is to make judgments on things, and I’ve never claimed tomake 100 percent correct judgments and what have you, but I think we’ve done enough things well to at least keep going forward.”