Football Notebook: Hawkeye Offense Working to Find Consistency

September 11, 2018

Written by Rob Howe

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Asked by a knucklehead reporter where he felt the offense was at right now, Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson provided a witty and accurate answer.

“Not where we need to be,” he said with a smile Tuesday here at the football performance center.

The intended meaning wasn’t lost on anyone. It’s not been pretty for the Hawkeyes on that side of the ball.

The struggles have been made easier to stomach by a dominant defense that has led the Hawkeyes to a 2-0 start heading into Saturday’s game against Northern Iowa (6:30 p.m., BTN). However, everyone involved knows things need to be better on offense.

Iowa ranks 112th out of 128 FBS schools in total yards per game (311.5), three spots ahead of lowly Kansas. It’s sitting at 94th in scoring with 23.0 a contest.

“We need to figure out what’s going on. We’re obviously inconsistent. That’s been our whole focus this week, being more consistent,” Hockenson said.

The Hawkeyes have shown signs of putting it together. Their 13-play, 83-yard, fourth-quarter touchdown drive against Iowa State on Saturday sealed a 13-3 victory. They overpowered Northern Illinois in scoring 30 points after halftime in a Week 1 win.

Iowa has looked out of sync at the beginning of games, scoring just three points before halftime in each of the first two weeks. Its averaged 110.5 yards before the intermission.

“I just thing we need to start fast and come out of the gate ready to go,” right tackle Tristan Wirfs said. “It seems like we’ve been kind of starting a little slow and that’s how it was last year a little bit. Just starting fast and getting going right away is kind of our key.”

The passing game has been the most notably absent. But The running game has not reached where it needs to be, either. The Hawkeyes have averaged 157 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 81st nationally. Beyond that, it’s gaining just 3.74 yards per carry.

Offense is about rhythm and the Hawkeyes must to find it. They need to run the ball better to set up play-action passes. The blocking has to be better from everyone, not just the line. Passes can’t be dropped and quarterback Nate Stanley must be more accurate.

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Iowa has been looking at spacing on their routes and ways to stretch out the defense, Hockenson said.

“It’s a conceptual thing and that’s what we’re trying to do,” he said. “There are missed assignments here and there. We’re trying to clean that up and be more consistent as an offense.”

Hockenson said it’s important not to make excuses and find ways to execute. Even when things don’t go as planned, players must adjust.

Stanley is working on that. He notices receivers being knocked off their routes and it’s throwing off timing. It’s his job to alter his passes.

“I need to be able to do a better job of being able to adjust in the middle of the play,” he said.

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Stanley ranks 111th out of 121 FBS quarterbacks in passing efficiency this season at 100.6. After coming into this season wanting to improve on his 58.7 completion percentage from a year ago, his coach thinks the junior is trying too hard.

“I think he looks like he’s pressing to me a little bit,” head man Kirk Ferentz said.

“I know a little bit about throwing a baseball, and you can’t aim a ball, I know that, when you throw something. I think he’s doing a little bit of that right now, trying to be too perfect.”

INJURY REPORT: The Hawkeyes could be without two important pieces of their offense this weekend. Running back Ivory Kelly-Martin and receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette are questionable for the game.

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Kelly-Martin missed the Iowa State contest after hurting his ankle in Week 1. Smith-Marsette left in the third quarter of Saturday’s game after falling awkwardly on his left shoulder during a 45-yard reception.

Ferentz said that Smith-Marsette’s x-rays came back negative but he hadn’t practiced this week as of Tuesday. Kelly-Martin hasn’t practiced since hurting his ankle against Northern Illinois on Sept. 1.

“He’s gaining ground, and we haven’t rolled him out yet for this week, but he’s gaining ground, and we’ll see day by day,” Ferentz said.

A FLUID SITUATION: Iowa entered the season with an idea of how it would utilize the new rule allowing true freshmen to play in four games yet still red shirt. The coaches chose the guys they would use based on training camp and then would reassess things when the bye wee rolled around after Game 4.

“I think we kind of have an idea of what the working potential participants are, and then injuries affect that,” Ferentz said.

Running back Henry Geil played in Week 1 and was the No. 3 man there this past Saturday with Kelly-Martin out. He did not participate against Iowa State but another injury could force him into more action.

In addition to Geil, Dillon Doyle, Riley Moss, Julius Brents, Tyler Linderbaum, Kaevon Merriweather and Nico Ragaini are the first-year players to see the field so far.

EXTRA POINTS: Stanley, Parker Hesse, Matt Nelson and Brady Ross will be the captains for Saturday’s game…the contest is a sellout…Iowa leads the Big Ten and ranks fifth nationally in total defense (199.5 yards per game)…During their last three regular season games, the Hawkeyes have outscored their opponents 82-7 in the second half…former Hawkeye quarterbacking legend Chuck Long with provide color commentary for the Big Ten Network for Saturday’s game.

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