Commentary: After another RB goes down, time for the Hawks to air it out


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Here’s what the Iowa offense has following Tuesday’s sadly predictable announcement of Barkley Hill’s Aug. 18 ACL tear: Two fairly proven receivers. A matchup nightmare of a tight end. A standout quarterback who excelled from the shotgun last season.

And at running back? A true freshman and a converted wide receiver.

One of the biggest selling points on new offensive coordinator Greg Davis is that he adapts his playbooks to best fit his team’s players. At Texas, Davis helped the Longhorns win with a variety of offensive talent, from Major Applewhite to Vince Young. That stands in contrast with Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, who has clung to the idea of an offense balanced between the run and pass over his entire 14-year coaching tenure.

An interesting subplot of this season was going to be how much Ferentz allowed the team’s philosophy to change under receiver Keenan Davis. But the last six months, with injuries to running backs Jordan Canzeri and Hill and the dismissal of De’Andre Johnson from the program, seem to have made that decision for him.

A balanced offense just doesn’t seem feasible anymore. The running-back attrition has been so insane that it almost has to cause a fundamental change in the way Iowa tries to play, at least for one season.

Last season, the Hawkeyes ran the ball more often than they threw it — 454 times to 412. That made them the second-most pass-happy team in the run-heavy Big Ten.

But the Hawkeyes don’t have Marcus Coker anymore. Unless Damon Bullock or Greg Garmon is much better than advertised, they’ll need to lean even more toward the pass this year.

This issue came up early last season, too. A turbo-charged spread offense led Iowa to a frantic comeback win over Pittsburgh in week three, and Vandenberg looked born to play out of the shotgun. The Hawkeyes unexpectedly went with a no-huddle shotgun approach in their first possession the next week against Louisiana-Monroe and scored 45 points that game.

But the attack didn’t work in the team’s Big Ten opener at Penn State, and it was permanently scrapped.

The talents of Iowa’s players are screaming for Ferentz to dust it off again. Sophomore Kevonte Martin-Manley, the team’s No. 2 receiver, looked like a breakout star in the two games when Iowa was experimenting with a spread offense. He tallied 10 catches for 158 yards and 2 touchdowns in those two games.

In the nine afterward, he caught 16 passes for 142 yards. An argument can be made that the small-but-quick Martin-Manley is best when he can play in the slot with bigger receivers on the outside of the field.

The running backs Iowa does still have might also benefit from more passing plays. During both practices open to the public, both Garmon and Bullock have shown the most ability when catching passes in the open field rather than running up the middle.

It’s always ideal to be able to rely on a strong running game to move down the field. Ferentz isn’t wrong by any means about that. But there’s a good chance it just isn’t an option this season.

The potential for a balanced 2012 offense died a slow death, and it’s hard not to think Hill’s torn ACL was the nail in the coffin.

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