Iowa CITY, Iowa - We as football fans love new things. Give us a fresh wrinkle and we're excited.
That's why Saturday's three-tight end formations by Iowa sent the faithful into a tizzy. They still were riding high on its success against fourth-ranked Ohio State as it consumed a chunk of Kirk Ferentz's press conference here at the Hayden Fry Football Complex on Tuesday.
The coach attempted to calm the swell to no avail. Ferentz and offensive coordinator Greg Davis fed the beast clamoring for more action to the tight ends. The formation helped the Hawkeyes slice through a highly-regarded Ohio State defense in building a 17-10 halftime lead.
Part of the reason it proved so effective against the Buckeyes was its element of surprise. Iowa sprung it on its opponent after a bye week. While still functional, Ohio State found a way to slow it down in the second half in escaping with a 34-24 win against a heavy underdog.
Hopefully the Hawkeye backers aren't expecting what they saw last weekend to be the norm. If they are, they'll likely be pretty disappointed. It's A weapon, not THE weapon.
Keep the faith, however. The three-tight end sets working is another sign of progress and versatility for an offense that struggled to get out of its own way at this time last year.
Davis keeps advancing his unit. That's the most encouraging sign for the Iowa attack in its second season under his guidance.
The three-tight end alignment also was clicking because of previous success running the football. Ohio State was keying on Iowa's backs in the power package, freeing up the tight ends for receptions.
Consider how this season had unfolded on offense…
In Week 1, quarterback Jake Rudock, in his first-ever college start, flung 37 passes, completing 21 of them for 256 yards against Northern Illinois. The top two tailbacks, Mark Weisman and Damon Bullock, combined for 37 rushes and 176 yards. Kevonte Martin-Manley caught nine passes for 79. All in all, it was a balanced approach.
In Week 2, Rudock need only 28 passes for 193 yards against Missouri State. The Hawkeyes ran the ball for 298 yards. Tight ends C.J. Fiedorowicz and Jake Duzey joined Martin-Manley as the leading receivers with three catches apiece. True freshmen Matt Vandeberg hauled in two balls and reserve TE George Kittle recorded a 47-yard grab.
In Week 3, the Hawkeyes rushed an astonishing 60 times for 218 yards at Iowa State. Rudock chucked the ball just 14 times for 160 yards. Martin-Manley stood out with seven receptions and tight end Ray Hamilton caught two passes, the second most for the team that day. Wide receiver Jacob Hillyer scored his first career touchdown.
Week 4 brought Western Michigan to Iowa City. The Hawkeyes rolled to a 59-3 victory behind a rushing attack that generated 258 yards on 58 totes. Back-up RBs Jordan Canzeri and LeShun Daniels each carried 13 times for a combined 129 yards. Hamilton led the team with three catches while Damond Powell caught two balls for 83 yards and a score. Hillyer turned his one catch into another touchdown.
Week 5 in Minneapolis saw Iowa go heavy on the ground again. Weisman and Bullock teamed up for 35 carries and 194 yards. Rudock threw 25 times for 218 in the 23-7 win but he also racked up 35 rushing yards on five carries, continuing to keep defenses honest with his legs. Powell took a screen pass 74 yards for a touchdown.
The Hawkeyes faced a stingy Michigan State defense in Week 6 that made it impossible to run, holding them to 23 yards on 16 carries. Rudock went to the air 46 times, engineering two impressive second-quarter touchdown drives in which Davis got Bullock (five receptions) involved in the passing game. The running back caught a 47-yard TD pass. Tevaun Smith led the way with six catches while Vandeberg (four) and Fiedorowicz (three, TD) served as key components as well.
Then we got to last week at Ohio State. With all of the above mentioned variations and players involved in the Hawkeye offense, Davis flips the script and unleashed the three-tight end attack. The blocking helped them gain 130 ground yards against a stingy Buckeye D while Rudock accumulated 245 passing yards and three touchdowns on 34 passes. Duzey ripped off an 85-yard score on a day that saw him bring in six balls for 138 yards, the most of any TE in Ferentz's 15 years as Iowa head coach. Fiedorowicz caught four passes for 29 yards and a touchdown and Kittle chipped in with a 24-yard reception early.
Iowa's offense boasts a lot of productive pieces. It can come at you in a lot of different ways.
The three-tight end success on Saturday added another component to the mix. It didn't signal a change in Iowa's philosophy going forward.
The fruitful path for a strong offense is to keep building and adding to its repertoire. In conjunction, the unit becomes more proficient at executing each element.
Consider the above developments from the Hawkeyes this fall. Now, think about Northwestern preparing for them this week.
Iowa could come out in the three-tight end set. Out of it, it could line up those tight ends close to the line or split them out and go with an empty backfield out of the shotgun, which it showed on Saturday. Within that, who's getting the ball - Fiedorowicz, Hamilton, Duzey, Kittle?
Maybe Davis will come out in a no-huddle, hurry-up with three wide because that worked early in the season. Perhaps the mismatch comes against Martin-Manley's defender. Where's Powell, running a screen, catching it over the middle or is he streaking down the field because he's done all of that? Rudock might see opportunities with Vandenberg or Hillyer or Smith or Jordan Cotton or Don Shumpert (did I leave someone out?) or maybe he scrambles for 20 yards if nobody comes open.
Even if the Wildcats get a handle on all the receivers and tight ends, they still must contend with Weisman and Bullock. The backs might even catch a pass or two.
And that's just what we've seen to this point of the season. There's no telling what might still remain up Davis' sleeve.
None of what's been discussed here should insinuate that Iowa has arrived on that side of the ball. This isn't the Denver Broncos.
It's an improving offense that can, if it executes, beat the opponent in a number of ways. That's the takeaway from Ohio State and the first seven games. Bask in the light of the three-tight end parade if you must, just don't get too attached to it.