Greg Davis retired from football on Friday, and it could not have come at a better time
Despite the criticism Greg Davis received as Iowa football’s offensive coordinator, the Hawkeyes won 39 games and made four bowl games, including the Rose Bowl, with him on the staff.
Granted Iowa went 0-4 in bowls and never ranked higher than 53rd in points per game. That said, Iowa still won games and had huge offensive games under Davis, it was just inconsistent.
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Iowa’s inconsistencies on offense is why they finished 8-5 in 2016, despite coming into the year as the Big Ten West favorite. The Hawkeyes scored at least 40 points four times, including against ranked Nebraska in the regular season finale, although also failed to reach 15 points five times and only scored 21 points against FCS North Dakota State.
It’s been a common theme under Greg Davis. Iowa’s offense would look stellar one week but then would struggle to even gain a first down the next.
It does go beyond Greg Davis, though. As bad as his play-calling was some weeks, such as the Outback Bowl in which Iowa only managed three points, Iowa also didn’t have the weapons needed to be a high-powered offense.
This season, the Hawkeyes lost top receiving option in Matt VandeBerg and tight end George Kittle, who led Iowa with six receiving touchdowns in 2015, was almost never 100 percent in 2016. Plus, Iowa’s strength and focal point on offense under Kirk Ferentz is running the ball.
It doesn’t take away from the fact Iowa rarely took a shot downfield, which left their game plan of running with LeShun Daniels Jr or Akrum Wadley on almost every play predictable and not fun to watch. Although, Iowa did have their first pair of 1,000 yard rushers in the season and tried to air it out more at the start of the season.
Before attempting fewer than 20 passes and at least 47 runs in each of the final three regular season games, Iowa attempted at least 23 passes in seven of their first nine games. Their banged-up offensive line simply couldn’t hold their blocks long enough to allow C.J. Beathard to look downfield.
The same is true about the Outback Bowl this year. The offensive line struggled, which forced Davis into predictable screens and run plays. Although, Florida’s defense should get a lot of credit for getting into the backfield and forcing Iowa to only run screens or hand it off to Wadley and see if he could make defenders miss.
The fact of the matter is Iowa’s offense that has only averaged more than 30 points per game once in the past five seasons and attempted fewer than 25 passes in each of the past two seasons is not all on Davis.
Iowa doesn’t recruit to throw it 40 times a game, even if they had solid quarterbacks in James Vandenberg, Jake Rudock and C.J. Beathard under center. The Hawkeyes want to run the ball and that will always be their focal point under Kirk Ferentz.
Plus, the solid quarterback play Iowa has experienced in the past five seasons, even if vastly underused, is a testament to Davis, who was also Iowa’s quarterbacks coach.
Iowa still needs to find a way to mix up their offensive game plan under their new offensive coordinator, though. Whether they look towards Brian Ferentz or someone else, this is the right time for Davis to retire.
Iowa returns an offensive line that was given the Joe Moore Award as the nation’s best O-line and their best playmaker in Akrum Wadley, as well as soon-to-be fifth-year senior Matt VandeBerg. Even with the loss of a senior quarterback, tight end and running back, Iowa has weapons they should be able to utilize.
Beathard is accurate and managed the game for the Hawkeyes during his two years starting. While no one is expecting Stanley to be the in-game manager and leader Beathard was right away, there is no doubting his pure talent as a gun-slinger.
It’s hard to tell a lot from practices and nine career passes, but from his couple of throws down field against North Dakota State, there’s no doubt Iowa has a potential successful vertical game waiting in the shadows next season.
Besides, Iowa’s offense needs to adapt. That doesn’t mean go out and hire Chip Kelly, who would be a terrible fit with Iowa, but it does show why Iowa’s offense struggled to score at times under Davis. It’s too hard to win nowadays by just pounding the ball.
The Hawkeyes don’t need to become a spread offense where they pass 40-plus times a game, although, as seen against Florida, it’s hard to win when teams know you’re going to run the ball with little confidence in the pass game. It’s even harder when passes don’t go past 10 yards.
As previously mentioned, the disaster in the Outback Bowl was due to a lot more than just Davis’ play-calling, but Davis’ career with Iowa is summed up by him failing to take shots downfield. It might partly be due to Iowa not owning any great deep threats, even this year Jerminic Smith was prone to drops, but it still led to a one-dimensional offense.
It’d be foolish to expect anything other than 30-plus runs a game next season, especially with a running back in Wadley and an inexperienced quarterback in Stanley in the backfield, but being more aggressive will help give Wadley room to run and develop Stanley.
Also, it gives Stanley stability, which is always important for a young quarterback. It would have been counterproductive for Stanley to learn Davis’ expectations and game plan as a starter for a season or two but then have to learn something new if he retired in a couple of years instead.
Now, Iowa will look to lock up an offensive coordinator that will stay for at least five years like Davis.
Iowa’s 8-5 record and 95th ranked scoring offense in 2016 is not all on Greg Davis. Sure, he deserves part of the blame, but Iowa is also not built to score a lot of points and doesn’t recruit top-tier receivers to air it out downfield.
The play-calling might be more aggressive in the future, but it will still be Iowa football. The same team that hasn’t owned a top 30 scoring offense since 2002.
Iowa will win with defense, and that’s fine, but they need to at least adapt a little and trust their offensive line on passing plays that take time to develop. The Hawkeyes have talent on offense in 2017, it’s a matter of whether they actually use it this time.