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Pat Harty: Jury is out on how Davis’ offense is doing

[ 0 ] October 8, 2013 |

When it comes to their football team, Hawkeye fans are a community divided.

On one side are those who believe the program is moving in the right direction, even without a better record at this stage compared to last season, and even with Kirk Ferentz seriously considering bagging punt returns.

On the other side are those who believe that Ferentz’s ship has sailed and that rebuilding the program for a third time is beyond his reach.

At the center of the debate is second-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis, whose impact will go a long way in determining which side is right.

Davis met with the media Tuesday, as did Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker.

Iowa has a bye week and is midway through the regular season, with records of 4-2 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten. Up next is Ohio State on Oct. 19 followed by games against Northwestern, Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan and Nebraska.

Davis spoke optimistically about the offense, saying it’s better than it was last season — which isn’t saying much. He also praised Jake Rudock’s performance at quarterback, calling him unflappable and saying he brings a new dimension as a threat to run.

“We’re pleased with where he’s at, pleased with his ability to make plays with his feet; that’s something that he’s picked up several first downs,” Davis said. “When you look at our third down conversion, we’re much better than we were last year at this time. Part of the reason is his ability to make plays with his feet.”

Davis also raved about new receivers coach Bobby Kennedy for breathing life into a position that failed to produce last season.

“I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that Bobby Kennedy has not had a big part in making the receivers better,” Davis said. “His energy and his understanding of what we were trying to do.”

Davis brought up Kennedy while answering whether Iowa has all the necessary pieces in place or if more are needed to be successful.

“I’ve done this a long time,” said the 62-year old Davis, whose college coaching career spans nearly four decades, including a 13-year stint at Texas from 1998-2010. “You’re never happy. You always want the guy that somebody else has; the running back or receiver, the tight end. So we need to continue to recruit. At the same time, I think that one of the reasons the receivers are better, it’s the second year in the system.”

One reason the receivers are better is because they’re being compared to last season, when Iowa made completing a forward pass seem almost as difficult as climbing Mount Everest backward.

The same goes for Rudock, who saw the bar lowered dramatically at his position with James Vandenberg’s collapse last season.

So there is enough evidence to show that Iowa is moving in the right direction compared to last season, but not enough for Iowa to avoid being an underdog in five of its last six games, the one exception being the Nov. 10 match-up at Purdue.

Some fans, and members of the media, wondered after the 23-7 victory at Minnesota on Sept. 28 — a game in which the Hawkeyes dominated in the trenches — if Iowa was on the verge of regaining its title as the Bullies of the Big Ten.

Michigan State put an end to that discussion Saturday by holding Iowa to 23 net rushing yards during a 26-14 victory at Kinnick Stadium. You could just hear the optimism being sucked out of the stadium while the Spartans dominated Iowa in the trenches.

The loss to Michigan State exposed perhaps Iowa’s biggest weakness, which is the inability to function on offense without the power running game leading the way.

Losing leading rusher Mark Weisman certainly didn’t help Iowa’s cause against Michigan State, but he could have found more space to run in a phone booth than he did against the Spartans. He carried seven times for just nine yards before leaving the game with an ankle injury.

The loss to Michigan State has the naysayers thinking Iowa is headed down the same path as last season when it lost its final six games. The believers prefer to focus on the four-game winning streak that Iowa brought into the Michigan State game as a sign of progress.

Davis said nothing Tuesday to change how either side feels. Only time will settle this debate.

Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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