IOWA CITY, Ia. –– If Iowa’s football team keeps shooting itself in the foot on offense, it won’t matter how the defense fares against Iowa State’s Pistol offense Saturday night at Jack Trice Stadium.
On paper, the Hawkeyes’ offense looks downright acceptable through two games. Iowa is averaging 474.5 yards of total offense, up from 310.4 a year ago.
Three pass plays have gone for 40 or more yards; there were two in the entire 2012 season.
After averaging 67 plays a game last season, Iowa's up-tempo, no-huddle attack has gotten off 83 plays against Northern Illinois and 86 a week later against Missouri State.
The numbers yell progress. But penalties and dropped passes have made it hard for Iowa to build momentum, develop confidence and dig its way out of the hangover of a 4-8 season.
Ten penalties last week against Missouri State, for 100 yards, turned a dominating performance on paper into a struggle on the field.
“We took one penalty intentionally, but we had nine for 95 yards, and that’s just not going to cut it,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz admitted Tuesday. “It hasn’t been an issue, but it sure was Saturday. If it continues, it will be an issue, so we have to correct that, and that’s everybody. That’s coaches, players, everybody doing a better job.”
In two games, Iowa has been called for six false starts. Two of those were on third-and-1 plays, another on fourth-and-1. All three occurred inside the opponents' 40.
“You don’t want self-inflicting wounds,” quarterback Jake Rudock said. “That’s something coach Ferentz talks about all the time.”
Nearly as troubling have been a handful of dropped passes, including four against Missouri State. Penalties and dropped passes will cut the legs out of any offense, whether the coach is Kirk Ferentz, Hayden Fry, Forest Evashevski or — close your eyes, Iowa fans — Frank Lauterbur.
“Bad things are going to happen in a game,” running back Mark Weisman said. “Hopefully, they’re not self-inflicted.”
Cleaning up those penalties will be an area of emphasis this week, both in the film room and on the practice field. The same goes for third-down conversions: Iowa was 1-for-7 in the second half against Northern Illinois and, as a result, failed to build on a 24-17 halftime lead and lost 30-27.
“Penalties, mental errors, things like that, they just kill momentum,” Ferentz said. “And in some cases, they really affect field position. Those are really, really bad things.”
Granted, penalties are not the end-all. Iowa was penalized just 55 times last season, the fewest since 2008.
“We were pretty good on penalties last year, and we won four games, so it’s not the whole answer,” Ferentz said. “But it does keep you from being successful. We made the chore really hard (against Missouri State).”
If Iowa brings discipline and attention to detail with it to Ames, it could be a fun bus ride home Saturday night.
Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year and covers Hawkeye football for the Register. Follow him on Twitter (@ByRickBrown).
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football