'They do what they do, we do what we do' Bowl
IOWA CITY The biggest read into where Iowa's running game went against Minnesota last weekend is that it worked.
Iowa ran to the left 22 times out of 39 called handoffs to running backs. Running backs Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock averaged 5.9 yards a carry going that way. In the second half, when it was keep-away time in Iowa's 23-7 victory over Minnesota, went left 15 times for 105 yards.
Left tackle Brandon Scherff and left guard Conor Boffeli shrugged off that stat Tuesday. The secret was it worked. Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis had a go-to play and the Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) exploited it to the nth degree.
"I'm not sure why we went so much to the left," Boffeli said. "It might've been because we were having a better day, I don't know. I though the right side of the line played really well, too. It might be some strategy coaches saw. We hear the play and we run it. We really don't think twice about it."
They really don't think twice about it.
"You really don't think about it until someone mentions it to you," Scherff said. "You just try to focus on that play and keep doing your thing."
Iowa will once again strive for balance this season when it plays host to Michigan State (3-1, 0-0) Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. With a first-year starter at quarterback, a veteran O-line and a bruising running back, the Hawkeyes have been run-heavy, ranking No. 3 in the nation with 263 rush attempts. Last season, Iowa had 404 rush attempts, No. 105 in the country.
"I think we're making progress," coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. "Every year is different. In a perfect world, if you can run it and stop the run, that's a good thing, just in general terms."
Iowa has run the ball 67 percent of the time. Quarterback Jake Rudock is good with this.
"When the offensive line is physical and the wide receivers are physical on the outside," Rudock said, "that's what you want. If you own the trenches and do a good job there, it's tough to beat."
Through five games this season, Iowa has done exactly that. Iowa's run defense is No. 3 in the Big Ten. Iowa allows just 79.20 yards a game and 2.91 yards a carry. Of course, Iowa's toughest games remain in front of it, but this is quite an about-face for a program that in February 2012 hired a new O-line coach (Brian Ferentz, a former Iowa O-linemen and Kirk's son) and move the old O-line coach (Reese Morgan) to defensive line coach.
Kirk Ferentz knew it would work. Brian came in from coach the New England Patriots tight ends. He hired Morgan in 2000 as tight ends coach for his teaching ability as much as anything. Plus, Morgan coached Iowa's O-line for nine seasons under Kirk Ferentz's . . . let's say "watchful" eye. Ferentz's big break was being hired as Iowa's O-line coach in 1981 by Hayden Fry, a position he held for nine seasons and then held in the NFL for another six.
"It's probably not great to be a line coach here," Kirk Ferentz said with a very straight face. "Joe Philbin [Miami Dolphins head coach] went through it, Reese went through it and now Brian is number three on that list. It's kinda like there are experts everywhere and I probably think I know something about that, so it's probably not a great job."
The fact that Iowa ran 50 percent of its rushes to the left last week isn't a state secret. Everyone cringes when they hear an opponent say "we know what they're going to do," but that goes both ways this week. Both sides know what's coming.
"I think they've always been a very strong program, a program that's been built on toughness and built on a scheme, a concept, and they continue to work those concepts and they're very, very good at them," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said Tuesday. "Over the course of six years [Dantonio is in his seventh year at Michigan State], you look at them a lot of the things remain the same. Some things changed, but the integrity of their program remains constant in terms of what they do. So, they do what they do as I said earlier last week."
And . . .
"It's just a matter of sticking with what you believe in," Ferentz said. "From my observation, it seems to me that Mark and his staff started that way before they got there [Michigan State]. They did a great job at Cincinnati and when they moved to Michigan State, they continued on with quality work."
Iowa will run to the left a lot on Saturday. Michigan State will try to stop it. Then, Michigan State will run to the left a lot. Iowa will try to stop it.
"They do what they do, we do what we do," Dantonio said.
Probably should mention here that in the last six meetings these teams have combined for 76 punts (12.6 a game).