May 25, 2024

Kirk Ferentz content with Hawkeyes after final spring scrimmage

Iowa Hawkeyes Football

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz talks to his players after their final spring scrimmage Saturday April 20, 2024 at Kinnick Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The Hawkeyes put the finishing touches on spring ball following a chilly Saturday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium, and Coach Kirk Ferentz feels positive about the direction of his team.

After all, Iowa’s defense created a few turnovers, the running backs were more involved in the aerial attack, plus Drew Stevens displayed a strong and accurate leg. Ferentz believes it will be the Hawkeyes’ recipe for success in the expanded Big Ten this fall. However, he expects some growing pains along the way, especially at the skill positions.

There’s no denying that Tim Lester’s new playbook is creating a learning curve for the offense, and the quarterbacks are adjusting on the fly. Deacon Hill, Marco Lainez and Tommy Poholsky all took meaningful snaps against the defense, but none of them stood out from the rest.

Hill threw an interception early in the event. Lainez displayed dangerous mobility, but had accuracy issues. Poholsky should’ve had a couple of impressive completions if the receives didn’t drop the ball. On top of that, Cade McNamara has been limited throughout the spring, and didn’t compete in live action.

Regardless, Ferentz is remaining optimistic about the improvement of the offense, which finished dead last in the FBS in total yards per game last season. After 15 practices, Ferentz understands there will be bumps on the road along the way, but the Hawkeyes can reach their destination if they stay on the right route.

“I think we’ve made some progress, seen a lot of guys grow, and we’re on the right foot right now,” Ferentz said. “Certainly got a lot of work to do, and that’s typical for this time of year, but it’s been good to be with the guys, they’ve worked hard, and we’re just going to keep pushing forward.”

Iowa had a couple of studs that didn’t participate in Saturday’s scrimmage, including leading-returning rusher LeShon Williams, and defensive tackle Yahya Black, who’s coming off a 50-plus tackle campaign. In return, that allowed other players to step up, and get valuable reps.

Not many fans showed up to the event due to the weather, but the few in attendance watched an improved offensive line. Although the unit had two starters out, Ferentz felt the big boys up front made a statement. And that should make a big difference when the Hawkeyes navigate through the Big Ten gauntlet this fall.

“I think they picked up the system, but more importantly they’re more mature, and more physical than we’ve been over the last couple of years, and that’s a good thing,” he said. “A lot of familiar faces, so I think we’re more of a veteran group than we’ve been the last several years.”

The Hawkeyes have an All-Big Ten caliber player at every level of their defense, which should be a team strength again. Black will be anchoring the defensive line, Jay Higgins and Nick Jackson form the best linebacker duo in the country, and Sebastian Castro earned third-team, AP All-America honors in 2023. The defense might have to carry the load early-on while the offense gels.

Still, Iowa fans know the team is only going to go as far as the defense can take them. Lester has to make strides with the quarterbacks over the next four months. McNamara still sits atop the depth chart, and Hill is No. 2, but Ferentz believes Lainez can very much be in the mix too.

“From my experience the next couple of months are going to be really big for him (Lainez), but he’s had 15 days of being out there and receiving a lot of reps,” the 68-year old coach said. “It’s a new system, so what I think he can do to try to slow things down is to throttle back a little bit.”

Unfortunately, Hill didn’t look much improved, and still made the costly mistakes that plagued the offense last season. It didn’t seem much of a concern to Ferentz though, considering Hill was throwing against one of the nation’s best defenses. Everything is still a work in progress for Lester’s offense, but wideout Kaleb Brown and tight end Luke Lachey are looking promising.

At the end of the day, the Hawkeyes should be able to get stronger as more players return healthy. Ferentz is approaching his 26th season with an open mind, so he’s preparing for whatever challenges come Iowa’s way.

“We’ve made progress, guys have received great exposure, now we’ll be more specific about things and hopefully our execution will be a little bit better.”