Iowa CITY, Iowa - The cliches were flying at Iowa's weekly press conference here Tuesday. They were used while fielding questions regarding the Hawkeyes' lackluster offensive showing through three games.
Coach Kirk Ferentz and his players talked about getting back to work, cleaning up the little things and executing as ways to cure the ills, much like they did after Saturday's crushing last second-loss to Iowa State at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes managed 102 yards and three points in the second half.
"Sounds like that's the focal point now," Ferentz said after getting peppered with inquiries about the offense to start Tuesday's press conference.
"We're just not playing well enough to win right now. Go back to work this afternoon," Ferentz said when asked to discern why the offensive was struggling.
The Hawkeyes are 2-1 but the wins came against FCS opponent in Northern Iowa and needed late-game heroics to knock off Ball State, a team that turned around and lost at home to a bad lower-division school in Indiana State. Iowa lugs the FBS' 94th-ranked scoring offense to unbeaten Pittsburgh Saturday (11 .m. CT, ESPNU).
The stock answers about working hard and getting better have been a common refrain since Ferentz took over the program in 1999. And they're a big reason he's enjoyed so much success at the school for the last 15 plus years. They've worked hard and gotten better and that's the goal morning forward.
The coach and his players aren't going to come out and say exactly what the problems are on offense. Nobody gets thrown under the bus in the Hawkeyes program. And that includes Davis.
"We considered a wide range of people in the job when Ken (O'Keefe) went to Miami (in '12)…Greg is an outstanding teacher. He's an outstanding human being. He's a solid person…Greg is stellar. Unbelievable. I can go down the list of everybody on our staff. We’ve got outstanding coaches," Ferentz said.
The fans, media, coaches and players were expecting the Iowa offense to hit it's stride out of the gate this season. It returned many key players and had two-years of transitioning to Davis system, which produced units ranked 111 and 80 in scoring in its first two seasons. It's remained stuck in neutral.
"We know the offense, most definitely. It's not a transition period anymore," running back Damon Bullock said. "There have been times when we put up points. It's not about not knowing the offense it's about executing plays."
There have been calls from the outside for Iowa to replace Rudock with sophomore C.J. Beathard, a common arm-chair solution to offensive struggles. It's a more difficult decision for the coaches.
"We've had some shots down the field, some near misses. Especially two weeks ago we had a couple in that game that maybe would have uncorked things a little bit. Long foul balls, they don't count," Ferentz said. "I know the quarterback gets the focus on a lot of that stuff. It's usually a little bit more involved than that. Might be good coverage. Might be a receiver not reacting properly to the coverage, so the quarterback doesn't get what he anticipates. It's like anything, a pretty intricate thing."
Davis and Ferentz raised the hopes of fans this offseason by talking about mixing in Beathard to the game plan. He's played one series through three games and the head coach was evasive when asked Tuesday if we would see the backup this week.
"It's a thought every week, for sure. It's a thought every week. Not the most prominent thought apparently, but it's a thought every week," he said.
One of Davis' first proclamations when taking the job in '12 was that he needed to add speed to his receiver corps. He desired big plays from his offense. It has not happened consistently.
In their first three games, the Hawkeyes have produced five plays that have gone for more than 20 yards with three of those coming in Week 1 against UNI. They've failed to get the ball into the hands of their deeps threats/playmakers, Tevaun Smith, Derrick Willies and Damond Powell. The latter two weren't even targeted against ISU depite Ferentz saying on Tuesday that they were healthy.
"They're young guys. Derrick is young chronologically. DP, as you remember, he's been here for a year basically. He missed the entire pre-season with a hernia surgery. He's working his way back in. We love the guy. He's a really talented player, high-energy guy. We'll work him in. Nothing against either of those guys. It's just where they're at right now. They've got growth to make," Ferentz said.
The coach assures everyone that Iowa is looking to turn in some big plays.
"I don't think it's that simple. We've had routes down the field. If they're not open, we're not going to throw them. It's one of these deals, so…," he said.
Ferentz confirmed on Tuesday what we had reported a day earlier that Jordan Canzeri hurt himself on a third-quarter kick return against the Cyclones. The junior running back carried three times for 18 yards but didn't touch the ball on offense after a early-second period tote.
Canzeri is averaging 4.4 yards per carry this season while the two running backs ahead of him on the depth chart, Mark Weisman and Bullock, are at 3.0 and 2.7 respectively. Ferentz said Canzeri is expected to play against Pitt and the coaches have told him the he should see an increased workload. He has big-play ability and could perhaps loosen up opposing defenses.
One still must wonder Ferentz and Davis philosophies mesh. The head coach pretty much leaves the defensive coaches alone but sits in on offensive meetings.
"I spend more time in our offensive room. That's kind of where I hang out. They'll let me. So I'm totally in tune. Not like something is going on I'm not aware of," he said.
From what we know of Ferentz, he prefers power football, with multiple tight ends, a strong offensive line and running backs to work off play action. Davis likes a mobile quarterback to make plays off schedule with quick receivers and running backs operating in space.
"One thing I'm firm on, I think we have to have the ability to be balanced, and we would hopefully play in a physical nature," Ferentz said. "We're not going to be a finesse offensive football team. Have the ability to run or pass. That could come out of a three-wide set, could come out of a one-wide set. I'm not as hung up on those things."
Perhaps the rub resides in there somewhere. Maybe Davis wants more wide open (finesse) than Ferentz's base philosophy allows. Or, the molding of the two sets of ideas is just taking a lot longer than anybody hoped or expected and they're ready to put it all together.
That's what Ferentz and his players are banking on. Development and growth are the options in college football. There aren'r trades or the waiver wire.
"Sometimes it takes getting punched in the face to realize your true potential," offensive tackle Andrew Donnal said. "We were able to squeeze by the first two weeks with wins getting by with things maybe we shouldn't have gotten away with. Last week, we got what we deserved. It should be an eye-opening experience to us that we have to change what we're doing right now."
The last three years of watching Iowa's offense makes one wonder why it's so tough. Teams across the country have found ways to put up video game numbers while the Hawkeyes strain.
"I can't answer it. All I know is that we needed 21 Saturday. That's the only stat I know. Or we had to hold them to 16. We didn't accomplish either of those. I've been here 16 years. Those are really the stats I worry about, how many points we give up and how many we get. Really doesn't matter how you win, what kind of style of points you get. The objective is to win the game. We didn't get it done. Like I said, the magic number Saturday was 21. We came up short," Ferentz said.