By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa - When Brian Ferentz said on Wednesday that he feels the Iowa receivers have done a nice job, it’s important to put his words in the proper context.
He wasn’t suggesting that receiver is a position of strength after four games because nobody would take him serious, considering Iowa’s receivers have combined for just one touchdown this season.
Iowa’s second-year offensive coordinator, who is also the son of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz, seemed to be taking a glass-half-full approach to a position where the glass has often been more than half empty.
Rarely has receiver been a position of strength under Kirk Ferentz, and this season, which will resume on Oct. 6th at Minnesota following the current bye week, is no exception.
So by saying the receivers have done a nice job, it seems that Brian Ferentz based his opinion on a bar that isn't set very high.
And that makes sense because why be unrealistic about it?
And why by be negative in a public forum?
Each of the positions on the Iowa team have to be judged and handled on a case-by-case basis because the expectations are different for each position.
For example, the expectation at receiver wasn’t nearly as high as the expectation at tight end heading into season, so it makes sense to judge them differently.
And that’s what Brian Ferentz appeared to be doing when he met with the media on Wednesday as part of the bye week.
Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker and special team’s coordinator LeVar Woods also met with the media on Wednesday.
“I think they've done a nice job,” Brian Ferentz said of his receivers. “You look at some of the games that we've played, the biggest plays in the games have come out of the receiving corps.”
Brian Ferentz then pointed out that two of the biggest plays that occurred in the 13-3 victory over Iowa State were catches made by receivers Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith that gained 45 and 30 yards, respectively.
“I look back at the Iowa State game where we were really having trouble getting anything going,” Brian Ferentz said. “The two biggest plays in the game were to receivers. It was Ihmir on the post ball, which was a really good play by the quarterback as well.
“Then coming back to Brandon on the fade there at the end of the game when we were able to punch it in on the next play. So those are certainly two big plays in a tight, closely contested football game where we weren't really moving the ball effectively offensively for the majority of that game, or whether it's that, you look at the Northern Iowa game, certainly those guys made a couple plays in that game.”
My grade for the receivers after four games would probably be a C-plus and that grade would be based partly on expectations.
I didn’t expect the receivers to be a strength, but did expect more than just one touchdown from the position after four games.
With all the attention given to tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson, you'd think the receivers would benefit more from a statistical standpoint.
But that hasn’t happened, at least not yet.
Iowa’s receivers have combined for a modest 390 receiving yards on 30 catches in four games this season, led by senior Nick Easley with 132 yards on 12 catches.
Easley has been inconsistent, however, with all but two of his 12 catches having come during the 38-14 victory over Northern Iowa.
Smith-Marsette is ranked second on the team with an average of 43.7 receiving yards per game, but he has only played in three games after missing the Northern Iowa game due to an injury.
The receivers also have had several costly drops this season, including on Iowa's final possession against Wisconsin when a short pass from quarterback Nate Stanley over the middle deflected off Smith-Marsette's hands before being intercepted by Wisconsin linebacker T.J. Edwards.
Iowa’s tight ends have been as good as advertised, the running backs have more than held their own and the offensive line has been respectable.
Stanley also had his moments, and so have the Iowa receivers. But if you were to list one position that concerns you the most on offense, I’m guessing in most cases receiver would be that position.
I was reminded of that when asked if I felt that Iowa had a chance to beat Wisconsin after the Badgers had taken a 21-17 lead with 57 seconds remaining.
My answer was no because I had little faith in Iowa’s down-field passing attack, partly due to a lack of trust in the receivers.
So I get where Brian Ferentz was coming from on Wednesday.
He was trying to accentuate the positive at a position that could always use a boost.