Iowa’s sense of competition at offensive line drives renewed confidence ahead of 2023

John Steppe
Aug. 11, 2023 7:01 PM
IOWA CITY — Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz is “very wary of coaches that talk about how little they sleep.”
“There's a lot of people in the state that probably work a lot harder than guys coaching a children's game,” Ferentz said Friday as he took questions from reporters at Iowa’s football media day.
But Ferentz did note Friday he has a “fleeting sense of contentedness in the evening” as his offense looks to improve this fall from being statistically one of the worst in college football in 2022.
“I like the way that guys are coming out and working every day, and they keep a focus on improvement,” Ferentz said. “We see improvement on a daily basis.”
With three weeks until the start of the 2023 college football season, time will tell whether the offense’s daily improvements in fall camp this year translate to the in-game improvements that had been lacking in past years.
But in the meantime, Iowa’s offensive personnel seems to have no lack of confidence.
“Everyone is truly bought in to getting better and doing everything we possibly can to have success this season,” quarterback Cade McNamara said. “We also recognize how much talent we also have.”
The offensive line was at the heart of the Hawkeyes’ woes last year, but position coach George Barnett finally has what he has sought since taking the Iowa job in 2021 — competition.
“That’s what the room has been missing in my first two years,” Barnett said. “You can’t replicate that. … A coach’s voice is great, but man, when they’re sitting there and they know behind them there’s somebody pushing, it’s a heck of a deal.”
The Hawkeyes had only two offensive linemen with at least 10 career starts at the beginning of last season. This time around, Iowa has five reaching that mark (plus the additions of transfers Rusty Feth and Daijon Parker).
Head coach Kirk Ferentz, a former offensive line coach himself, said one “can’t microwave maturity.”
“That is a position where maturity really shows up,” Kirk Ferentz said. “Nobody wants to hear it, but we've had injuries. We've had some unusual personnel situations. … We're not there yet, but I feel a lot better.”
Regardless of one’s preferred statistical measures, it is clear the Hawkeyes have a heavy lift to get the offense to even an average level.
One year earlier at Iowa’s 2022 media day, Brian Ferentz mentioned yards per carry, third-down conversion rate, red-zone touchdown percentage and completion percentage as some of the statistics he values. Even with Brian Ferentz’s preferred statistics, the numbers were bleak.
Only 12 of the Hawkeyes’ 27 red-zone trips last year resulted in touchdowns. Iowa’s 55 percent completion rate ranked 112th out of 131 FBS teams, and its 2.9 yards per carry was second-worst among Power Five teams.
The third-down conversion rate of 27.8 percent was third-worst in the country, and the five fourth-down conversions hardly made up for that inefficiency.
Iowa’s staff has repeatedly made it clear wholesale schematic changes are not in the picture. The roster has seen significant upgrades, though, with incoming transfers such as McNamara, tight end Erick All and wide receiver Kaleb Brown.
“It's a completely different team with completely different players,” wide receiver Nico Ragaini said.
It’s such a different team that the sixth-year wide receiver — Kirk Ferentz jokingly described him as a “senior citizen” — even has different friends from last year.
“Really all my friends from last year left,” said Ragaini, one of the final members of Iowa’s 2018 recruiting class to still be in college.
While Ragaini said the team has put “last year in the past,” the discontent with past years could still be a motivational force.
“Even the guys that came from other places — they aren’t happy with how their last year went as well,” Ragaini said. “Having the chip on our shoulder that we all have here will set this team apart.”
If it works, Brian Ferentz still might not have an abundance of sleep — “if you do my job, you worry about everything” — but perhaps his contentedness will be more than “fleeting.”

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