May 25, 2024

Kirk Ferentz leaning on young quarterbacks to boost Iowa’s offense

Iowa Hawkeyes Football

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz glances at the scoreboard during a timeout in the fourth quarter against Nebraska Friday November 25, 2022 at Kinnick Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

IOWA CITY, Ia. — College football’s longest-tenured coach has found himself face-to-face with more adversity, after quarterback Cade McNamara suffered a season-ending injury against Michigan State.

Now Kirk Ferentz is adjusting on the fly as a battle with Purdue looms. It’s no mystery that the loss of McNamara has left Iowa with a lot of inexperience in the quarterback room. However, Ferentz needs his healthy signal-callers to embrace that next man up mentality, as the Hawkeyes navigate through the Big Ten gauntlet.

Sophomore Deacon Hill gained valuable experience in the victory over the Spartans. Ferentz thought his outing was promising during McNamara’s absence. Hill completed 11 of his 27 pases for 115 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The Californian is versatile, which should open up the playbook.

“I thought he (Hill) played with a lot of poise out there, first and foremost, on Saturday, made some good decisions and played with a lot of poise,” Ferentz said. “Now the trick is to keep building on that, he has a different skill set certainly, but he’s fully healthy, and he’s more than eager to keep playing here.”

Joe Labas is now No. 2 behind Hill. The sophomore started in last year’s Music City Bowl against Kentucky, and led Iowa to a shutout win. Both quarterbacks have recorded a victory over a Power Five opponent, and should bring new life to a lethargic offense. Ferentz is encouraged by what he witnessed from Hill, but Labas will have to shake off some rust.

“The challenge for him (Labas) right now is he’s missed a lot of time too, so he’s playing catch-up in some sense,” he said. “The fact that he did play in December, I think gives everybody a little more confidence certainly.”

Iowa (4-1) will require better execution from the big boys up front in order for the quarterbacks to have a chance. The Hawkeyes’ rushing attack will need to be more effective also, to keep the pressure off Hill. Running back Jaziun Patterson will be out for Saturday’s game against Purdue, but Kaleb Johnson is getting some reps and should be available.

What Ferentz wants Hill to do is keep developing. McNamara will be right there on the sidelines to guide him too. Although Hill has a high ceiling, Ferentz expects there to be some growing pains learning the entire offense.

“I hope there’s improvement week to week, but part of growth sometimes is going backwards as well, and I think everybody needs to be realistic on that,” the 68-year old coach said. “Our hopes and expectations are he’ll go out and play better this week than he did Saturday.”

Building chemistry with the pass-catchers will be priority No. 1. Tight end Erick All has established himself as the ultimate safety net, but the Hawkeyes need another receiving threat. Purdue (2-3) scored 44 points last week in the win over Illinois, so Ferentz is going to need Hill to put together some productive drives.

Iowa’s recipe for success is running the ball, controlling time of possession, and dominating field position with great special teams. With the inexperience at quarterback, the Hawkeyes will have a slim margin for error against the Boilermakers. Still, Iowa is undefeated at home this season, and the crowd will be behind the offense every step of the way. Hill must perform like a seasoned veteran, instead of a wide-eyed underclassmen, which is easier said than done.

Regardless, Ferentz has trust in his gunslingers, and feels his offense is in good hands with Hill behind center. Most importantly, he expects Hill to build off last week’s performance.

“He’s got a great attitude, he works hard, and he’s practicing well, that’s all you can ask anybody to do.