IOWA CITY, Ia. — Greg Davis has learned a lot of valuable lessons in his 39-year career as a football coach.
“When you do what I do, and done it as long as I have, the mail … you always listen to it before you open it,” said Davis, in his second season as Iowa’s offensive coordinator.
The mail was extremely harsh last season, when the Hawkeyes’ offense was disjointed and unproductive in a forgettable 4-8 season. Last Christmas, Davis would have lost a popularity contest with Ebenezer Scrooge in these parts.
But today, the native Texan gets on a plane and flees the frigid Midwest for Tampa, Fla., and the Outback Bowl. No. 14 LSU will be a sizable challenge for Davis and his offense. But Iowa’s surprising 8-4 season, fueled by a much more productive offense, has melted away much of the criticism aimed at Davis a year ago.
“I do feel more comfortable,” Davis said. “We played a little bit better. Even in the games where we were unsuccessful, in terms of wins or losses, we played better. We played smarter. So that part of it was good.”
Iowa’s offense has improved across the board, from total offense to scoring average to third-down conversion rate.
“We’re not where we want to be, but I think we’re improved,’ Davis said. “I think we’re a pretty solid football team right now.”
After last season, when quarterback and receivers were rarely on the same page, there was nowhere to go but up.
“We’ve grown,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We came into the season knowing we had a new quarterback. You never know how that’s going to go. We also knew we were really inexperienced at receiver. We didn’t know how that was going to materialize and develop outside Kevonte (Martin-Manley). I think we’ve seen growth at every position. Hopefully, our best football is in front of us.”
Davis talked before the season about wanting to play at a faster tempo, and the need to make more plays down the field. Iowa increased its’ average offensive plays per game, from 66.1 to 72.1.
“We would like to be playing faster,” Davis said. “We were able to make some explosive plays down the stretch. The Tevaun Smith catch against Michigan jumps out. We’re running the ball well and protecting the quarterback.”
Smith’s one-handed catch and 55-yard touchdown run on Iowa’s first possession of the second half against the Wolverines recharged a turnover-prone offense and helped turn a 21-7 halftime deficit into a 24-21 victory. Iowa has had five passing plays of at least 53 yards this season.
Last year, there was one.
“That’s something we have to continue to work on and be aware of,” Davis said.
The addition of wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy to the staff this season was a plus. Kennedy worked with Davis for seven seasons at Texas. They were on the same page from the first day of spring practice. The offense followed suit with more and more frequency as the season marched on.
Jake Rudock emerged from a three-way battle to win the starting quarterback job. A job, Davis said in August, that wouldn’t be won until the bullets started flying in real games.
“We found that Jake is very unflappable,” Davis said. “He handles the good with the bad.”
The Michigan triumph, and a 38-17 decision the following week at Nebraska to end the regular season, gave the season a positive vibe and moved the Hawkeyes up the bowl pecking order.
It also set the table for bigger and better things in 2014. Eight starters will return on offense — linemen Conor Boffeli and Brett Van Sloten and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz are the only seniors. And left tackle Brandon Scherff’s decision to return for his senior season was a tremendous boost.
“We’ve been saying since the middle of the season that if Scherff comes back, it’s been a good recruiting year,” Davis said. “He’s just going to continue to get better.”
Davis also offered a tasty tease to the future.
“We’re really excited about the receivers that nobody knows about yet,” Davis said, mentioning redshirt freshmen Derrick Willies, Derrick Mitchell and Andre Harris. “Those guys have had really good redsdhirt years. Putting them in the mix in spring ball, with the veterans that we have coming back, I feel like we’re closer to where we need to be in that area.”
Rudock didn’t want to look ahead to next season, not with the game with LSU next on his plate. But Davis did.
“It’s real exciting,” Davis said. “I think it will allow us to hit the ground running in the spring.”
Which beats running to the mailbox and checking to see if the mail is ticking.
Rick Brown, a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year, covers Hawkeye football and basketball for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football