By MARK SNYDER
Detroit Free Press Sports Writer
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz knows his offensive line.
He coached it for nearly a decade as an Iowa assistant, in the NFL for Baltimore, and all three of his sons are steeped in the trade. Brian coaches the Iowa line, James played on the Iowa line until graduating last year, and Steven is a redshirt freshman lineman.
Just like Brady Hoke’s eyes focus initially on an opponent’s defensive linemen, Ferentz is an offensive line expert.
With Michigan his opponent Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, he saw progress against Northwestern.
“It’s like anything, you try things, you work on things, but you never know until game time when situations come up,” Ferentz said on the phone this week. “I’m not coaching there, I don’t pretend to be coaching there, but what I saw from their group this past Saturday looked like a pretty cohesive group that had a pretty good feel for what the next guy’s was doing. It just looked like their whole package was moving pretty smoothly.”
It was unthinkable even a week ago that someone would praise Michigan’s offensive line, yet producing 120 rushing yards from two freshman tailbacks qualifies, and it was a direct result of their work.
While senior tackles Taylor Lewan and Mike Schofield have been mostly steady this season, the revolving door on the inside finally was settled with true freshman Kyle Bosch at left guard, redshirt sophomore Graham Glasgow at center and redshirt freshman Erik Magnuson at right guard.
None began the season in those spots and, after a breakthrough against Indiana, there was serious regression against Michigan State and Nebraska. Both games featured negative rushing totals — along with plenty of sacks and bad snaps.
So watching the linemen improve so dramatically against Northwestern thrilled Hoke.
“The thing that you saw was the interior of the line really moved the interior of Northwestern’s defense,” Hoke said on his radio show Wednesday. “The combination blocks that go on the nose tackle and the (defensive) tackle were really (impressive). The backs had a chance to get started.”
So why now? What clicked?
After so many switches, offensive coordinator Al Borges said they weren’t going to insert new players to make the same mistakes. So it was trial by fire the rest of the season.
And it appears patience is paying off.
“It has a lot to do with the experience, getting older and all that stuff, but also coach (Darrell) Funk,” Lewan said of the offensive line coach. “A lot of heat’s come on him for the offensive line not playing well, but I think Coach Funk’s one of the best coaches I’ve ever had personally. He sticks on those guys, he knows how to coach those guys, he gets them fired up and knows when to get on them and not to get on them. That’s starting to come together.”
Despite the improved yardage, sacks were still a problem as Devin Gardner took another five. The holes were there, but maybe not enough for a breakout run. And mauling Iowa’s physical defensive front is not the same as Northwestern.
But the biggest issue improved as the interior linemen knew which defensive line to focus on each play.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football