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IOWA CITY, Iowa — The jokes are worn out at this level. We might spend from now till fall camp doing a Tom Brady-grade roast of Iowa’s offense. Not many offensive items have slumped to the purpose of changing into the topic of memes and pretend Cameos fodder. 

Not many have been this unhealthy, both. Epically unhealthy, really. It defies logic that Iowa continues to win at a excessive stage. However, to their enduring credit score, the Hawkeyes do exactly that. All collectively, Iowa’s offense has turn into one of many offseason’s most intriguing storylines to observe. 

Iowa goes into the 2024 season having completed final and second-last nationally in complete offense the previous two seasons, respectively. No FBS program has completed within the backside two in consecutive years since Washington State (2008-09). 

Oklahoma State working again Ollie Gordon II had as many touchdowns (22) as Iowa had as a crew. Michigan’s Blake Corum had six extra (28). Thirty-five particular person gamers accounted for extra complete yards than the Hawkeyes final season. 

We might go on, however that appears merciless and weird. Once more, the strategy has “labored.” These Washington State groups completed a mixed 3-22. Within the final two seasons, Iowa has received 18 video games (10 in 2023) and performed for the Huge Ten championship. Since 2019, Iowa has received 10 video games thrice. 

Coach Kirk Ferentz, 68, could also be nearing the tip of what’s going to definitely be a Corridor of Fame profession because the FBS’ longest-tenured coach enters his twenty sixth season main Iowa, however he did not get this far with out figuring out what he was doing.

However with the clock ticking on offensive enhancements, and with each the Huge Ten and School Soccer Playoff increasing, the query have to be requested: Now what? Severe solutions solely. 

In the hunt for these solutions, CBS Sports activities granted anonymity to a handful of faculty soccer sources to weigh in with their ideas. 

“Go to each girls’s clinic in America, and the No. 1  query you get from the wives and the mothers is why do you run it up the center a lot? Kirk is an old-line man at coronary heart, and he needs to get all people blocked. I get all that, however it’s a must to be keen to cope with slightly little bit of grey space.

“Once you go to Broadway, once you go to a present, you wish to see some leisure. Who needs to go watch a basketball recreation the place anyone wins 42-40?” one former Energy 5 head coach

Enter first-year Iowa offensive coordinator Tim Lester — as a result of somebody needed to take over for Brian Ferentz, the top coach’s son who had served within the place since 2017. The previous Patriots tight ends coach as soon as coached Rob Gronkowski en path to Tremendous Bowl 46. 

A head coach hiring a toddler is a possible drawback at each establishment, nevertheless. Former Iowa athletic director Gary Barta skirted round this nepotism state of affairs by having Brian Ferentz report back to him. The son started teaching at Iowa as offensive line coach in 2012 earlier than being elevated to offensive coordinator in 2017. 

If the offense below the elder Ferentz at all times gave the impression to be a bit sluggish, possibly that was really the purpose. It is offset by defensive coordinator Phil Parker and particular groups coach LeVar Woods being two of the very best at what they do in school soccer. 

However the scales turned so tipped to at least one facet that Iowa’s offensive struggles emerged as a nationwide story. Parker’s unit pulled its weight; really, the protection pulled the whole program alongside. Since 2017, the Iowa protection has intercepted 114 passes, averaging a choose each 25.5 makes an attempt by the opposition. Since that very same yr, Iowa is tied with Penn State in Huge Ten turnover margin (+45).

There have been occasions in current seasons the place the protection legitimately needed to be counted on to attain for Iowa to have an opportunity. All-American punter Tory Taylor was such a pressure together with his leg that the Australian had a line of licensed T-shirts with the catchphrase, “Punting Is Successful.” 

Tory Taylor performed an enormous half in Iowa’s success in current seasons because the offense struggled. 

At Iowa, it wasn’t at all times unsuitable. 

“Think about when you lived throughout the corridor from a world-renowned hacker. How are you continue to getting hacked? [Parker’s] been hacking offenses within the Huge Ten and throughout the nation for years … Go throughout the corridor and get the intel [for your offense.]” — a former Huge Ten staffer 

The state of affairs had turn into so dire that incoming AD Beth Goetz, president Barbara Wilson and Ferentz all got here collectively in late October to announce Brian Ferentz wouldn’t be again. Or, as Goetz put it, ” … that is his final season with this system.” 

You do not want a thesaurus to surmise Brian Ferentz had been fired. The state of affairs formally had turn into a distraction. Brian Ferentz has since been employed as an analyst at Maryland. 

Earlier than final season, Barta had amended Brian Ferentz’s contract to incorporate what amounted to efficiency bonuses. Iowa needed to common not less than 25 factors per recreation and win not less than seven video games. The Hawkeyes received 10, however “The Drive For 325” — 25 factors per recreation x 13 video games — turned a tedious chase that opened up the youthful Ferentz to additional mockery. 

” In my humble opinion, 50,000 toes, [the offensive issues are] both vanity or ignorance, as a result of at Iowa it is not on account of personnel. There are too many Hawkeyes working up and down the sphere on Sundays. They don’t seem to be simply dominating, they’re All-Professionals. Their recruiting has been sturdy and constant, their improvement has been sturdy and constant … [but] it is like an old-world pitcher who cannot get any run assist.” that very same former Huge Ten staffer

Lester was employed largely as a result of he is an completed former head coach (Western Michigan 2017-2022) and, effectively, he was accessible. The previous Purdue quarterbacks coach spent 2023 as an analyst for the Packers. Ferentz in contrast the yr within the NFL to a sabbatical. 

“It is like a yr of analysis … The unhealthy information is it normally means you bought fired the yr earlier than once you get to try this in our enterprise,” Ferentz informed CBS Sports activities. 

In a wierd parallel, Lester has been via one thing like this earlier than. In 2022, the Western Michigan offense was struggling and Lester demoted coordinator Jeff Thorne late throughout a 5-7 season. These Broncos had been, effectively, Iowa-like offensively, ending tenth or worst within the 12-team MAC in speeding yards, complete yards and factors per recreation. 

Total in these six seasons, Lester’s Western Michigan groups outdid Iowa offensively in six key classes: rush yards per recreation, yards per recreation, complete offense, completion share, go yards per recreation and factors per recreation. 

(OK, just about everybody surpassed Iowa on these classes, however think about the Hawkeyes inside the Huge Ten alone from 2017-2022. It completed within the high half offensively of these 36 mixed classes six occasions.)

Famend quarterback coach George Whitfield loves Lester at Iowa. The 2 met in 2016 when Lester was serving as Purdue’s quarterbacks coach and Whitfield was introduced in to assist with the Boilermakers’ NFL Draft prep. That season, Purdue QB David Blough had thrown for profession highs in yards (3,352) and touchdowns (25). 

“Soccer followers can anticipate to see Iowa’s offense with up to date software program with a brand new management,” Whitfield mentioned. “The system goes to mirror an open, multi-tiered assault. It is also going to permit them to dictate phrases.”

Thus far, the events are aligned. 

“I feel there are fairly apparent the reason why we struggled offensively. It does not take a detective to determine that out,” Ferentz mentioned. 

Ferentz wasn’t particular, however there have been accidents final season on the offensive line. And, in fact, you are nothing with no quarterback as of late. Iowa’s three scholarship quarterbacks going into the spring had suffered a) consecutive season-ending accidents (Cade McNamara), b) accomplished lower than 50% of his profession passes (Deacon Hill) and c) had thrown seven profession passes (Marco Lainez).

“I’ve watched Iowa on movie … I used to be joking on the time. They set offensive soccer again 50 years. It had zero creativeness. I feel you’ve got obtained to have the ability to suppose exterior the field and be inventive. You have to have a quarterback who could make one thing occur. I am not saying he must be an enormous scrambler, however on third down, [he] has to have the ability to get you 5 yards.” — that very same former Energy 5 head coach

Hill entered the switch portal after the spring. This week, former Northwestern QB Brandon Sullivan transferred in to affix the room. Iowa’s 2024 switch class is ranked 123rd by 247Sports. 

“Our system is nothing like what’s been completed right here previously,” Lester mentioned. 

“I like watching their protection. Which means you’ll be able to go for a couple of extra fourth downs. You may unfold it out, you are able to do loopy stuff … That is the million-dollar query now, actually. Are you attracting guys now on fashion of play or are you attracting them financially? Earlier than, I might have mentioned successful and magnificence of play are two large components. Does cash turn into that factor now that does it? I can not reply that.” — one former FBS coach 

Lester, 47, is finest described as revered and succesful. If he’s the face of the offense going ahead, it is most certainly due to its effectivity, not its staggering ineffectiveness. And with Parker’s protection, the Iowa offense simply being common might get the Hawkeyes to the School Soccer Playoff.

The Hawkeyes would have been on the sides of competition final yr, successful 10 regardless of averaging barely greater than 15 factors per recreation. 

“I am simply not huge into [other coaches’] self-promotion, not huge into look-at-me guys,” Ferentz mentioned earlier this yr. “Generally, these guys are actually good and the coach does deserve credit score. However I feel, once more, it will get again to what is the larger image? Are we making an attempt to be a showy offensive crew or a high-blitz crew? That stuff is all nice till you are giving up the massive play, or on offense turning it over to the opposite crew and all of the sudden your protection is on the market defending 20 yards.” 

“Offensively, you’ve got seen Nick Saban change. Gary Patterson modified. There was a day you can play nice protection and win 14-10 and other people had been fired up. However that is over. Everyone needs leisure and Tik Tok and YouTube. Baseball went via that — no person might get successful, no person might get on. They made baseball extra thrilling.” — that very same former Energy 5 coach

In the long run, no offensive coordinator goes to name a play, or collection of performs, that are not signed off on by the top coach. Within the spring, I requested Ferentz: Contemplating the best way Iowa performs and wins, will the offense be demonstrably totally different? 

“I feel it should look totally different, however I feel philosophically we’re in line … We performed good protection right here just about 20-plus years. That was a constructing block coming in.

“However enjoying complementary soccer and never being reckless with the soccer is an enormous a part of that, and being good on particular groups. That is been an enormous a part of our blueprint.”

Does that sound like an offensive repair?

Severe solutions solely.

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