This Isn’t Your “Classic Iowa” Offense

Photo: Shivansh Ahuja

The Iowa Hawkeyes have been the same team for pretty much ever. If you’re 40 years old or younger, you’ve seen a maximum of two Hawkeye head coaches stalk the football field sidelines.

During both the Hayden Frye and Kirk Ferentz eras, the Hawkeye football program has been known for the same boring (but effective) Iowa-style. They are always good in the trenches, will punch you in the face with their run game and the program breeds NFL defenders, offensive linemen and tight ends.

The Hawkeyes shouldn’t apologize for what they’ve built. Here in Minnesota Gophers land, we would have killed for the type of consistency over the same period of time. Their consistency, however, has rarely led to seasons where they compete with the NCAA big dogs. They haven’t won a Big Ten championship outright since 1985 and they haven’t shared one since 2004.

Something has changed

If you haven’t watched Iowa that closely over the last couple of years, then you might be awestruck at what you see on Friday night, offensively. Kirk Ferentz’ son, Brian Ferentz, runs the offense and calls plays. He’s been doing it since 2018, when an offensive evolution started to take place in Iowa City.

Both pre and post snap, sometimes I have to rub my eyes at what I’m watching. I think Urban Meyer explains it really well in this video from a year ago. In 2020, with (Jr) Spencer Petras now at QB, Brian Ferentz has taken the evolution even further.

Iowa’s offense doesn’t run very many plays without sending at least two players in motion before the ball is snapped. They’ll do it with tight ends, wide receivers and running backs. They use that pre-snap motion to set up different types of run and swing pass plays, but mostly use it to distinguish coverages and make life easier on their QB’s. 5 years ago, I never thought I’d call the Hawkeye offense “gimmicky”, but that’s exactly what it is. And they like to throw the football… a lot.

Big Ten Passing

Iowa is 3rd in the Big Ten in pass attempts. Let that sink in. It’s probably not a good thing, then, that they also rank 13th in both passing touchdowns and passing percentage. The Minnesota Gophers passing game doesn’t rank much better… but we aren’t the team throwing more than just about anyone in the Big Ten.

RkBig Ten Passing 2020 (per Game)GAttPctYdsTD
2Penn State340.756.6286.33.0
5Michigan State337.757.5289.72.0
10Ohio State327.786.7302.73.7

Spencer Petras

You only have to watch Spencer Petras throw the ball one time, to see why the Ference’s like him so much. He has a natural and effortless throwing motion that launches the ball out of his hand. He went to the same high school as Jared Goff (Marin Catholic) and broke all of his QB records.

Petras also owns all but three attempts of the 2020 Iowa passing numbers you see above. They trust him to throw the ball a lot because he has such promise… but he’s under-delivered so far. His completion percentage is trash and he has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns.

The Iowa coaching staff is waiting for the moment when he puts it all together. Hopefully, that’s not this week. Here’s a cool video I found on Petras.

But some things stay the same

This blog is dedicated to showing how much the Iowa offense has changed over the last few seasons. But until proven otherwise, one thing remains the same.

Stop Iowa’s run game and make them beat you with the pass. In 2020, the “running game” is expanded to a lot of the gadget swing throws and wide receiver end-arounds that Brian Ference is becoming known for.

If the Gopher defense can find a way to limit the effectiveness of the motions and gimmick run plays, and they can force Petras to throw the ball vertically on 3rd down, their chances of winning increase tenfold.

Minnesota Gophers defensive coordinator, Joe Rossi, is back this week. If Rossi’s defense looks more like it did last week, while he was gone, then they’ll fair a lot better than what they showed in weeks 1 and 2, while he was there.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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