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Commentary: No improvement from Hawkeye offense

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | NOVEMBER 26, 2012 6:30 AM

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C.J. Fiedorowicz’s long sigh said it all.

The Iowa tight end was asked if the team’s offense had improved over the course of the 2012 season.

He paused. He looked up at the ceiling.

“Um … We put up 7 points today,” Fiedorowicz said. “That’s not very impressive. We’ve been up and down all year, and that’s just frustrating as a group after all the work we put in.”

That’s a long way to answer the question. A shorter way would be “no.”

The Hawkeyes mustered only 268 yards of offense in an unimpressive 18-17 win over Northern Illinois way back on Sept. 1. They assured everyone that they just needed to work out some first-game kinks under new coordinator Greg Davis, and the offense would run more smoothly.

That game ended up being just their fifth-worst offensive output of the season.

And the team’s very worst output came in its final game, when Iowa gained just 200 yards against Nebraska — after a full season to adjust to its new playbook.

“I think we showed some improvement, but what gets lost sometimes is everyone else is improving, too,” center James Ferentz said. “We didn’t improve fast enough or as much as the other teams. And our record reflects that.”

It isn’t only Iowa’s record that reflects that. You could see it when quarterback James Vandenberg threw the ball to the outside and his receivers ran inside. The Hawkeyes never once cracked 250 passing yards in a game this season, and they only managed 200 in half of their games.

It was hide-your-eyes ugly at the beginning of the season. And while everyone waited for a light bulb to go on, or even for a just a few flashes of an effective offense, it never happened.

“Not only were we learning Coach Davis’ offense, I think he was learning us and our personnel and how we operate,” Vandenberg said. “I think everybody wishes he could’ve hopped in and we started scoring 50 a game, but that’s a little unrealistic.”

But that explanation rings hollow. There’s no evidence that any learning was happening this season. If unfamiliarity with a system was the Iowa offense’s problem, then it would have performed better as the new offense became more familiar.

That, of course, didn’t happen. So maybe the problem was the system itself. Iowa hardly passed the ball over the middle of the field all season, instead opting for short throws to the sideline that rarely worked.

Iowa players seem to like Davis. Vandenberg said he had “as much fun working with him as I’ve ever had.” And maybe the problem was that Iowa’s current talent isn’t built to play in the open field, turning short throws into long gains. Maybe a few recruiting classes will change that.

But maybe not. Davis, like all Iowa assistant coaches, was on a one-year contract this season. Head coach Kirk Ferentz isn’t necessarily tied to the system that was so stagnant this season.

“I’m comfortable with everything right now,” Ferentz said.

He might be the only one.


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