Spring Ball: Offensive Overview

Iowa this week began its third spring practice session with Greg Davis as its offensive coordinator. Hawkeye Insider looks at that side of the ball and what lies ahead for the team in 2014.

IOWA CITY, Iowa - The Kirk Ferentz-Greg Davis marriage has moved well past the honeymoon phase. Like most unions, it's experienced rocky times and moments of euphoria.

Entering Year 3, it's time for the partnership to stabalize. There should be a clear understanding of what both parties want and how to work together to achieve the common goal. In this case, it's scoring points.

Ferentz began his 16th spring football session as Iowa's head coach this week. Davis embarked on his third trip through this time of year here as his offensive coordinator. He replaced Ken O'Keefe, who left for the Miami Dolphins after arriving with Ferentz in 1999.

Things unfolded dreadfully for Ferentz and Davis in Year 1. Some outsiders wondered if there should be a sequel to the horror show. The offense largely was responsible for a 4-8 train-wreck of a season.

The Hawkeyes rebounded in 2013. They won eight games and reached the Outback Bowl. A stingy defense paved the way for the turnaround.

The offense produced highlights. The three tight-end sets at Ohio State that pushed the Buckeyes onto their heels represented the high-water mark. Not enough of those moments surfaced in Davis' second season, however. It was passable compared to Year 1.

Iowa's offense scored 37 touchdowns in '13 compared to 22 a year earlier. While improved, the Hawkeyes' 2.8 offensive TDs per game versus FBS opponents ranked 86th nationally, according to teamrankings.com. Purdue, Northwestern and Minnesota were the only Big Ten teams with a lower average.

The biggest breakdowns occurred in the red zone. A 77.08 percent success rate against FBS competition ranked 96th in the country and 10th in the conference.

Davis talked last off-season about a need for bigger plays. During his first spring here, he suggested there was a lack of speed, specifically at wide receiver. The Hawkeyes have addressed that in recruiting.

Iowa didn't stretch the field in '13. It's 5.1 yards per play against FBS competition rated 84th nationally and in front of only Purdue and Minnesota among Big Ten teams.

While the defense should be solid with an experienced line, that unit could suffer some growing pains after losing all three starting linebackers and two key pieces of the secondary. The offense welcomes back three fifths of its starting front, its top two quarterbacks, and all of its top receivers and runnings backs. Members of the last few recruiting classes should bolster the skill positions as well.

"I think everybody has assimilated to the way Greg does things offensively," Ferentz said. "We do have a (starting) quarterback (Jake Rudock) that's returning, and probably one of our more experienced offensive groups coming back, with still obviously some things to get resolved. But hopefully it's a more fluid operation, more productive operation than we've had over the last few years and I think it will be."

Ferentz lets his coordinators call their own games. That said, he's more hands on with the offense as an old line coach. Certain principles define what he expects on that side of the ball. That's where the marriage of ideas with Davis comes into play.

It will be interesting to see how the shift in personnel geared towards Davis' style of a quick, up-tempo offense meshes with Ferentz desire to be deliberate. The head man seems to be giving his coordinator what he wants, including a receivers coach Bobby Kennedy, who starts his second spring here after a long run of success with Davis at Texas.

Ferentz and Davis melted their philosophies together better last year than in '12. They've had another offseason and begun a key spring period looking to take the next step.

Here's hoping they remove from the playbook the stretch run to Mark Weisman. Maybe we could see him line up at fullback with LeShun Daniels at running back. Perhaps either of those guys might work as a single back.

The Hawkeyes arguably possess the deepest, most versatile group of skill position players in the Ferentz Era. The running backs, receivers and tight ends come in all shapes and sizes and, utilized properly, could create match-up problems for the opposition.

Yes, Year 3 should let us know if this Ferentz-Davis partnership can work out. A lack of significant progress could result in a long fall around here and put this marriage on the rocks.

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