Iowa CITY, Iowa - If you think you were disgusted with Iowa's offensive ineptitude last season, consider how the guy in charge of it and the players involved in it must have felt. They practiced each week to improve and then couldn't get out of their own way on Saturdays.
A popular view this offseason sees the Hawkeye attack being better in 2013 because it can't get any worse. It's not like a Big Ten low 22 touchdowns overall is a lofty mark to exceed.
"It's hard to put a finger on it," running back Mark Weisman said of the struggles. "We had injuries but that's no excuse. We just weren't clicking. We weren't consistent. That was the biggest thing. We showed signs that we could do it but we definitely weren't consistent and that's what we're working on."
While Weisman emerged from being a no-name, walk-on fullback to the toast of Hawkeye Nation with his punishing running, first-year coordinator Greg Davis and quarterback James Vandenberg shared the wrath of disappointed and sometimes angry fans. The latter has moved on to try his luck at the NFL while the guy calling the plays met with the media on Wednesday for the first time since last fall. And that press conference came during the bye week before the ship sank to the tune of a six-game skid to end the season.
Davis fielded some tough questions at the Fry Football Complex. He joked about getting critical letters from fans that included negative mail from his parents, an obvious attempt at laughter to keep from crying.
Davis shouldered the blame for last season. He stuck up for Vandenberg. He showed once again that he's a very likely guy.
"I'm sure I could have done a better job," he said. "I'm sure I could have done a better job with James. He is a better player than he played last year."
Vandenberg threw 25 touchdowns as a junior in Ken O'Keefe's offense. He looked overwhelmed with Davis running the show last year and threw just seven scores.
"It's a combination," Davis said when asked what happened. "We've moved past that. James is an outstanding young man, brilliant. I think he'll get an opportunity to play at the next level.
"But, you know, it's as much my fault as any player's."
No one will ever confuse Davis with former Iowa hoops coach Steve Alford, who likes to throw his players under the bus faster than Usain Bolts runs the 100. But let's face it, Davis wasn't the guy struggling with blitz recognition or throwing the ball into the ground instead of into receivers' hands. There was plenty of blame to share.
Davis could have put Vandenberg in a better position to succeed. He tried to force the Keokuk native into being something he was not, a quick read and react quarterback. Lesson learned.
The Iowa players like Davis. They want to succeed for him and themselves. In athletics, that often is a large part of the battle.
"I don't know if he's much different," Weisman said of Davis this spring compared to last April. "Same guy. He gets on us when we're doing things that are not good. He gets excited when we're doing things that are good."
Davis has worked in the business long enough to know there will be lows. A steady hand and attention to detail can change your fortunes.
"I feel pressure every day of what I've done for 40 years," Davis said when asked if last year makes things harder for him. "But we did sit down and evaluate, obviously, things that we felt we could do better, things we should do more of, less of, whatever. And I think we've got a pretty good mix going right now."
Weisman and veteran receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley see progress. Last spring, they were trying to pick up Davis' system.
"At this time last year, we were learning the playbook," Martin-Manley said. "Now, when they call plays, we're just lining up. We don't have to think about it. We're going to a no-huddle type deal. We can play faster now."
None of these advancements mean Iowa is out of the woods as it pertains to offensive ineffectiveness. Clicking against your defense in practice isn't the same as performing at Ohio Stadium.
Iowa still is searching for Vandenberg's replacement. Davis and head Coach Kirk Ferentz call the competition between Jake Rudock, Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard a dead heat.
"They've all done some really good things, but they have not separated themselves yet," Davis said. "I see things as encouraging by all three of them. So that part makes you happy. I wish one of them would go on and separate. So that's where we're at right now at that position."
Maybe they're all playing so well that it's hard to pick a winner. Probably not. There will be growing pains.
Davis can help whomever wins the quarterback battle more than he did when confusing and discombobulating Vandenberg last season. Dumb it down until the guy under center is comfortable.
Martin-Manley said he expects Iowa to go at least 80 percent no-huddle this season. Couple that with a strong running game and that should lessen the pressure on the quarterback and keep the defense off balance.
Much like Ferentz, Davis didn't forget how to coach football. He's experienced success which has kept him employed for a long time.
Things don't always work out the way we plan them. Last year's offense serves as a stark reminder of that. It also doesn't mean the train can't get back on the tracks.