Howe: Coaches Flexible

The Iowa coaches showed some flexibility on Saturday and the players reacted with a 45-17 mashing of ULM.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - Adam Gettis starts smiling when the question is being asked. In his fifth season running the Iowa offense, you can see in his eyes that he's a little surprised with the Hawkeyes no-huddle, spread out offensive attack from the last two weeks.

Iowa's hand was forced last week in falling three touchdowns behind visiting Pittsburgh. The Hawkeyes embarked on Saturday's contest with a planned hurry-up.

"I was a little surprised," Gettis said about the approach. "But whatever Coach (Ken) O'Keefe says. He's the man on the field. As long as he gets us to the right place, that's what we're going to do."

Head Coach Kirk Ferentz and Offensive Coordinator O'Keefe have favored a low-risk, pro-style attack for much of the last 12 plus seasons. Injuries at running back prompted them to cut quarterback Drew Tate loose to make plays in 2004. The Hawkeyes last won the Big Ten in that season.

"Just trying to please the fans and the media," Ferentz said when asked about the attack. "That's simple; simple answer there."

If you didn't already, now you know Ferentz pays attention to "suggestions" from the outside that he may be a tad too conservative.

"Just something we talked about, good way to start," Ferentz continued. "I think James (Vandenberg) is certainly pretty comfortable in that position. It's something we'll fool around with. As we go along, that's something we can kind of integrate into our thinking."

A lot of joking around appeared on Iowa social media feeds on Saturday. Some inferred that the real Ferentz and O'Keefe may have been abducted. There was no way the real guys could be calling those plays.

Fair enough. I don't think anyone would call Iowa's offensive minds wild and crazy guys. But they see the benefit to a little change for the team's benefit.

Iowa's defense has been as vulnerable this season as any one under coordinator Norm Parker, save possibly its first two campaigns - 1999-2000. Credit Ferentz and O'Keefe realizing it and leaning on the offense to help the defense, something that has gone the other way a whole lot in their tenure here.

Iowa came flying out of the no-huddle after receiving Saturday's opening kickoff. The Hawkeyes pushed ULM on its heels with a 9-play, 74-yard touchdown drive that ticked 3 minutes and 21 seconds off the clock.

The Warhawks responded with an impressive drive deep into Iowa territory. But a holding penalty led to a field goal. The Hawkeye defense still looked suspect.

Iowa's offense came back on the field and continued to play fast. The home team marched 60 yards in eight plays to advance its lead to 14-3. It gave the defense some breething room...and rest.

The no-huddle offense received a lot of attention on Saturday because it was so out of the norm for this staff. I think it came together in a window that's been pretty common around here through the last decade plus.

"We practice a lot of stuff you guys don't see on Saturday's," Iowa Receiver Marvin McNutt said. "I'm not going to tell you what they are, but we practice no-huddle. That's why we're comfortable with it."

Ironically, Iowa Quarterback James Vandenberg said Iowa didn't work much with the no-huddle in practice this week.

"We just did it a little bit (Saturday) to try to spark us," Vandenberg said. "We built off of last week. It's really an easy way to get everybody involved and everybody in a rhythm. That's why we started out that way."

As a developmental program, Iowa under Ferentz never really has shot fast out of the gate. There's usually been player turnover at key spots and this year the team has replaced a lot of talent that left for the pros after last fall.

It's often taken Ferentz and his staff a while to evaluate what they have and the strengths and weaknesses of the squad in a given season. As we arrived at the end of the non-conference campaign, they've become more willing to open up the playbook on both sides of the ball.

The Hawkeyes also have used more three wide-receiver sets through the first four games of a season than any time in recent memory. The coaches realized that play at fullback and tight end could drop off this season and played to a strength.

Iowa employed new starters at five positions on last week's starting defense. On Saturday, we saw more of the 3-4 look and nickel and dime packages than we had all season. Again, the coaches have become more comfortable with personnel.

There's a lot of gray area when it comes to coaching a developmental program. There plenty of leaps of faith.

Ferentz was criticized after kicking a field goal in triple overtime at Iowa State instead of going for it on fourth and one. The Cyclones scored a touchdown on their next possession to come away with the win.

The Hawkeye coach said he believed in his defense getting a stop even though it rarely had that day in Ames. In fairness, the Iowa defense usually has risen to the occasion through the years.

Last week, the defense struggled early on and the offense played at a slower pace for the first three quarters. Pittsburgh took advantage to dominate for 45 minutes.

When the offense opened up, the defense fed off of it.It worked that way again on Saturday.

"It's a spark for the whole team" Safety Tanner Miller said of the no-huddle offense. "When we see them running up and down the field like that, it makes us want to get the ball back to them that much quicker."

We probably shouldn't get too carried away here. ULM is beat down from already playing Florida State and TCU this season. The Warhawks don't match up physically with the Hawkeyes. Iowa could afford to risk more on Saturday.

The bye-week is up next and then the Big Ten Opener at Penn State on Oct. 8. The Nittany Lions will offer a more conventaional look on offense and defense.

The Hawkeyes will get a better idea before conference season what they have on their hands with two weeks of practice before game competition. I wouldn't expect the no-huddle offense to go away, but I don't think it's going to be the way of life at Iowa. I feel the same way about 3-4 alignements and dime packages on defense.

Give the staff credit, though. It's playing to the team's strengths now that it has a better feel for them.

"I'm not as hard-headed as you guys think I am," Ferentz said. "We're going to do whatever we can to score. I wish it was as easy as lining up in no-huddle and shotgun and all that stuff. It still comes down to execution."


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