EAST LANSING, Mich. — Sean Welsh summed up Iowa’s biggest problem in one sentence.
“When we have good teams, they know who we are,” the offensive lineman said.
Right now, the Hawkeyes don’t.
No matter what they do, they don’t move the ball. Drives don’t end in field goals, let alone touchdowns.
If they are to turn things around after dropping their first two Big Ten games, it starts with the Hawkeyes figuring out what they are on offense.
“That was Coach’s main point this [last] week,” Welsh said. “Know who we are. Know what we need to do to get done.”
It needs to be the focus again this week because this team doesn’t know what it is yet.
“That is a tough question,” tight end T.J Hockenson said. “I mean, we are just trying to stick together is all.”
Where Iowa sits offensively
Right now, survival makes sense. Teams are blitzing Iowa nonstop, and it seems like the offense is under constant pressure. It’s no way for an offense to go through a game. It’s wearing on the Hawkeyes as they’ve scored 29 points over the last eight quarters.
The Hawkeyes want to run the football. They want to mix in the pass and be balanced. It sounds simple. It wasn’t the last two weeks. Penn State loaded the box with defenders and blitzed. Michigan State used a similar blueprint.
Iowa doesn’t use eight or nine defenders in the box as an excuse. The Hawkeyes are quick to point out they’ve succeeded against those looks before.
What is going wrong?
The Hawkeyes answered any question about offensive struggles with a response about better execution.
“There are a lot of things we have to get better,” running back Akrum Wadley said. “It’s [not] two [or] three things. It’s a lot of things we need to get better on.”
What is that list?
“We will be here all day,” Wadley said. “We are not doing what we need to do right now. I don’t have the answers. We just have to execute.”
That’s a sobering quote, but there is truth in it.
Important work starts with the offensive line. It needs to open up rushing lanes for Wadley and give quarterback Nate Stanley time to throw. Wadley, coming off a 30-yard rushing effort, needs to make more plays. The passing game can’t stall out for parts of games, and turnovers can’t become a consistent problem.
Like Wadley hinted. It’s not just one problem.
The biggest one is Iowa can’t run the football. The Hawkeyes ran it 19 times for 25 yards against the Spartans. That can’t happen at Iowa. When the run game struggles, so does. Iowa. It’s not just a 2017 thing. It’s a historical thing under coach Kirk Ferentz.
Respond like it’s 2008
Nothing really works right now. At least not consistently. It’s a major issue. It’s not an existential crisis. It’s more like being stuck in a ditch. It’s going to take a little creativity to get out. Iowa was in a similar spot on defense last season and overcame it.
But that’s not where Ferentz’s mind went on Saturday night. He thought to 2008.
That team lost 16-13 at Michigan State to fall 3-3. It rebounded and won six of its final seven, including the Outback Bowl. He didn’t want to compare 2017 to 2008. The situation is similar, down to the stadium the key loss occurred in. That is all.
“That season just turned out fine,” Ferentz said. “It was a little like that. We had some young players that had to gain traction. Those three losses were all close losses. We’ve had two close losses back-to-back [this season].
“I don’t think anyone is ready to hit the panic button, but we need to improve. That is what we need to do right now. Just focus on what we can do over the next six days to get better as a team.”
It starts with figuring out who they are on offense.
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