June 13, 2024

Can the Iowa offense evolve? Tim Lester tasked with casting jokes aside by implementing new-look approach

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

Not many have been this dangerous, both. Epically dangerous, truly. It defies logic that Iowa continues to win at a excessive stage. But, to their enduring credit score, the Hawkeyes do exactly that. All collectively, Iowa’s offense has turn out to be one in all the offseason’s most intriguing storylines to comply with. 

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 in 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 workforce. Michigan’s Blake Corum had six extra (28). Thirty-five particular person gamers accounted for extra complete yards than the Hawkeyes final season. 

We may go on, however that appears merciless and strange. Again, the approach has “worked.” Those Washington State groups completed a mixed 3-22. In the final two seasons, Iowa has received 18 video games (10 in 2023) and performed for the Big Ten championship. Since 2019, Iowa has received 10 video games 3 times. 

Coach Kirk Ferentz, 68, could also be nearing the finish of what is going to actually be a Hall of Fame profession as the FBS’ longest-tenured coach enters his twenty sixth season main Iowa, however he didn’t get this far with out figuring out what he was doing.

But with the clock ticking on offensive enhancements, and with each the Big Ten and College Football Playoff increasing, the query should be requested: Now what? Serious solutions solely. 

In search of these solutions, CBS Sports granted anonymity to a handful of college football 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 everyone blocked. I get all that, however it’s a must to be prepared to deal with a little bit little bit of grey space.

“When you go to Broadway, when you go to a show, you want to see some entertainment. Who wants to go watch a basketball game where somebody wins 42-40?” one former Power Five head coach

Enter first-year Iowa offensive coordinator Tim Lester — as a result of somebody needed to take over for Brian Ferentz, the head coach’s son who had served in the place since 2017. The former Patriots tight ends coach as soon as coached Rob Gronkowski en path to Super 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 scenario by having Brian Ferentz report 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 truly the level. It’s offset by defensive coordinator Phil Parker and particular groups coach LeVar Woods being two of the greatest at what they do in faculty soccer. 

But the scales turned so tipped to 1 aspect that Iowa’s offensive struggles emerged as a nationwide story. Parker’s unit pulled its weight; truly, the protection pulled the total 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 Big 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 with his leg that the Australian had a line of licensed T-shirts with the catchphrase, “Punting Is Winning.” 

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

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

“Imagine if you lived across the hall from a world-renowned hacker. How are you still getting hacked? [Parker’s] been hacking offenses in the Big Ten and across the country for years … Go across the hall and get the intel [for your offense.]” — a former Big Ten staffer 

The scenario had turn out to be 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 the program.” 

You don’t want a thesaurus to surmise Brian Ferentz had been fired. The scenario formally had turn out to be a distraction. Brian Ferentz has since been employed as an analyst at Maryland

Before 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 sport and win not less than seven video games. The Hawkeyes received 10, however “The Drive For 325” — 25 factors per sport x 13 video games — turned a tedious chase that opened up the youthful Ferentz to additional mockery. 

” In my humble opinion, 50,000 ft, [the offensive issues are] both conceitedness or ignorance, as a result of at Iowa it’s not attributable to personnel. There are too many Hawkeyes working up and down the area on Sundays. They’re not simply dominating, they’re All-Pros. Their recruiting has been robust and constant, their growth has been robust and constant … [but] it’s like an old-world pitcher who can’t get any run support.” that very same former Big Ten staffer

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

“It’s like a year of research … The bad news is it usually means you got fired the year before when you get to do that in our business,” Ferentz advised CBS Sports. 

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. Those Broncos have been, nicely, Iowa-like offensively, ending tenth or worst in the 12-team MAC in speeding yards, complete yards and factors per sport. 

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

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

Renowned quarterback coach George Whitfield loves Lester at Iowa. The two 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). 

“Football fans can expect to see Iowa’s offense with updated software with a new leadership,” Whitfield stated. “The system is going to reflect an open, multi-tiered attack. It’s also going to allow them to dictate terms.”

Or in higher phrases, and in Lester’s phrases, the “system is nothing like what’s been done here in the past.” 

So far, the events are aligned. 

“I think there are pretty obvious reasons why we struggled offensively. It doesn’t take a detective to figure that out,” Ferentz stated. 

Ferentz wasn’t particular, however there have been accidents final season on the offensive line. And, in fact, you’re nothing with no quarterback nowadays. 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 film … I was joking at the time. They set offensive football back 50 years. It had zero imagination. I think you’ve got to be able to think outside the box and be creative. You’ve got to have a quarterback who can make something happen. I’m not saying he has to be a massive scrambler, but on third down, [he] has to be able to get you 5 yards.” — that very same former Power Five head coach

Hill entered the switch portal after the spring. This week, former Northwestern QB Brandon Sullivan transferred in to affix the room. Sullivan and Lester have a relationship; Lester recruited Sullivan when he was the head coach at Western Michigan. Keep an eye fixed on Sullivan. Iowa experts do not consider it a foregone conclusion that Cade McNamara is the starter for the Hawkeyes when the 2024 season begins. 

“I love watching their defense. That means you can go for a few more fourth downs. You can spread it out, you can do crazy stuff … This is the million-dollar question now, literally. Are you attracting guys now on style of play or are you attracting them financially? Before, I would have said winning and style of play are two huge factors. Does money become that thing now that does it? I can’t answer that.” — one former FBS coach 

Lester, 47, is greatest described as revered and succesful. If he’s the face of the offense going ahead, it’s almost definitely due to its effectivity, not its staggering ineffectiveness. And with Parker’s protection, the Iowa offense simply being common may get the Hawkeyes to the College Football Playoff.

The Hawkeyes would have been on the edges of rivalry final yr, successful 10 regardless of averaging barely greater than 15 factors per sport. 

“I’m just not big into [other coaches’] self-promotion, not big into look-at-me guys,” Ferentz stated earlier this yr. “Sometimes, those guys are really good and the coach does deserve credit. But I think, again, it gets back to what’s the bigger picture? Are we trying to be a showy offensive team or a high-blitz team? That stuff is all great until you’re giving up the big play, or on offense turning it over to the other team and all the sudden your defense is out there defending 20 yards.” 

“Offensively, you’ve seen Nick Saban change. Gary Patterson changed. There was a day you could play great defense and win 14-10 and people were fired up. But that’s over. Everybody wants entertainment and Tik Tok and YouTube. Baseball went through that — nobody could get a hit, nobody could get on. They made baseball more exciting.” — that very same former Power Five coach

In the finish, no offensive coordinator goes to name a play, or collection of performs, that aren’t signed off on by the head coach. In the spring, I requested Ferentz: Considering the means Iowa performs and wins, will the offense be demonstrably totally different? 

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

“But playing complementary football and not being reckless with the football is a big part of that, and being good on special teams. That’s been a big part of our blueprint.”

Does that sound like an offensive repair?

Serious solutions solely.