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Leistikow: With upbeat outlook on offense, Kirk Ferentz might have a really good Iowa team

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INDIANAPOLIS — Maybe he’s just tired of hearing how bad the offense was last year or how bad it was received. But Kirk Ferentz on Tuesday kicked off Big Ten Media Days by itemizing several reasons he’s excited about this year’s offense.

For Iowa football, that counts as news.

We know (somewhat in jest) that Ferentz gets regularly excited about defense and punting. (And cut blocks … but that’s a different story.)

To hear him upbeat about the 2022 Hawkeye offense felt notable, felt different. Maybe the 24th-year head coach whose son is the offensive coordinator wanted to make sure that message got across here at Lucas Oil Stadium.

After one comment about being optimistic about the offense, a follow-up question essentially asked: You really feel that way?

“Yeah, I do. It must be bad out there,” he said, referring to the outside feeling around the Hawkeyes’ No. 121-ranked total offense out of 130 FBS teams a year ago. “I just watch the plays on film. I don’t know how you guys look at it, but I see a lot of makeable plays.”

Then, Ferentz threw in a caveat.

“If we can’t make some of the plays that we missed last year, then we’re not going to be very good. I’ll tell you that right now," he said. "That’ll be part of my message during camp, and I’ll show them those plays.”

Ferentz likes the talent with his young offensive line, which listed four sophomore starters on the two-deep released Tuesday. He noted that the line last year with injuries and poor tackle play was hanging by a thread except for all-American center Tyler Linderbaum, who is now a Baltimore Raven.

“I’m really optimistic. I saw the growth that we made last year,” Ferentz said. “I think if you look at our (Citrus) bowl game, to me that’s something to be optimistic about. But that’s if we make the plays that we leave out there. And that’s what we’ve got to quit doing.”

The run game with Gavin and Leshon Williams, who combined for 142 rushing yards on 26 attempts in the 20-17 loss to Kentucky on Jan. 1?

“I feel good about that, too,” Ferentz said.

That coincides with the message being relayed by starting quarterback Spencer Petras at a recent media availability in Iowa City.

“The thing I love the most is we’re a lot more detailed now,” Petras said then.

Speaking of Petras, here’s yet another reason Ferentz was in an optimistic mood: He feels like he’s got two good starting quarterbacks in Petras and Alex Padilla, who both started and won games in Iowa’s 10-2 regular season a year ago that earned a Big Ten West Division title.

“I’m optimistic,” Ferentz said. (There’s that word again!) “I think we have two pretty good quarterbacks. There are some teams in our conference or college football that struggled when their No. 1 guy went out. We kept winning.”

(Ahem, Penn State.)

Sam LaPorta on the evolution of Iowa's offense, his senior year
Sam LaPorta is considered one of the top tight ends in the country. Here, he talks at Big Ten Media Days.
Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

Tight end is Iowa’s best position group on offense. The best tight end and last year's leading receiver, Sam LaPorta, was here in Indianapolis. Between LaPorta and Luke Lachey, a promising and towering sophomore, the Hawkeyes could be extremely effective in two-tight end sets this year. That’ll help if Iowa’s wide-receiver corps is as thin as expected.

LaPorta said right after the season, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz went to the chalkboard.

“New plays, new concepts, different ways of doing things in small ways,” LaPorta said, “(while) still not going too far away from the basics of Iowa football.”

He added in relation to Petras’ recent comments: “I share that same emotion, that same excitement for what we can be on offense.”

And it should be noted that Ferentz on Tuesday confirmed that Jon Budmayr, the former Wisconsin quarterbacks coach, will be with the team in the fall as an analyst. Budmayr came aboard last spring as a volunteer special assistant and was credited with helping Brian Ferentz acclimate to his new dual role as quarterbacks coach. By all accounts, Budmayr — who Iowa tried to recruit out of Illinois as a prep — has been a big help.

“It makes perfect sense. It’s kind of like a gift from heaven,” Kirk Ferentz said of the continued Budmayr employment. “We tried to recruit Jon once; failed. So, we finally got him to Iowa. It just worked out where he’s in between (jobs) right now. This works out well for him, it’s worked out well for us.

"We’ve got a new quarterbacks coach who I think is long on knowledge of our offense but short on quarterback experience, not unlike I was in 1981 when I came here (as offensive line coach).”

So … should you be excited about the Iowa offense, too?

Recently, I was rewatching some 2021 Iowa football games — some good, some bad. My overall conclusion was in line with Kirk Ferentz's. The offense wasn’t as bad as I remembered. Petras made a lot of really good, tough throws. So did Padilla. They both need to increase their percentages (aka make the makeables).

The serious offensive-line problems of inexperience and injuries (Kyler Schott, Cody Ince, Justin Britt) was the bigger issue for the Hawkeyes last season. And Ferentz feels good about that area now.

So … time to get excited?

Let’s not go that far yet. But let’s borrow the buzz word of the day from Ferentz and add a word of our own.

Let’s go with … cautiously optimistic.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.