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Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Touchdown-starved Iowa looks for answers

By Adam Rittenberg

Of all the troubling statistics about Iowa's offense through the first two games, only one matters. As in, one touchdown.

Iowa is one of just two FBS teams to play two games and reach the end zone just once this season (Idaho is the other). If you missed Damon Bullock's game-winning 23-yard scoring run late in the fourth quarter of the opener against Northern Illinois, you missed it all.

"When you have one touchdown in two ballgames," coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday, "that says it all."

James Vandenberg
Senior QB James Vandenberg has completed just 54.7 percent of his passes in Iowa's first two games this season.
According to Ferentz, Iowa has to work on "pretty much everything" offensively to get on track, beginning Saturday against FCS Northern Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. Although the Hawkeyes are dealing with some transition on offense, including their first new coordinator (Greg Davis) in Ferentz's tenure, no one envisioned such futility early on.

The yards aren't coming (579 through the first two games), the big plays aren't coming (Iowa averages 3.8 yards per play), the red-zone opportunities are limited (6) and the red-zone touchdown conversions have yet to surface (0-for-6). Iowa has held the ball longer (32:56-27:03) and run more plays (152-129) than its opponents, but the points just aren't coming.

Bullock showed up big in Week 1 (150 rush yards) but was limited in last week's loss to Iowa State. The passing game is of greater concern, as Iowa has just 365 pass yards through the first two contests.

"Our passing game isn't where we want it to be in any phase, downfield or in any regard," Ferentz said. "We'll just continue to work on it. Obviously the other part is, we have to do a better job, when we get the ball down in the red zone area, we've got to convert touchdowns. We haven't done well in that regard in either game."

Despite the passing problems, Ferentz remains firmly in the corner of senior quarterback James Vandenberg. Pegged as the Big Ten's top pure passer and a potential national awards candidate before the season, Vandenberg has completed just 54.7 percent of his passes with two interceptions and, obviously, no touchdowns.

His receivers haven't been of much help, as Keenan Davis couldn't hang onto a potential touchdown against Iowa State, one of several drops in the game. But Vandenberg hasn't been sharp, either, and threw an interception in Iowa State territory to seal the 9-6 defeat.

"He's fine," Ferentz said. "... We don't have anybody more invested on our football team. We have a lot of guys working hard, but James is totally in. I'm sure he's disappointed right now. The bottom line is we're two games into this thing, and we just have to keep working. He's going to be a big part of our improvement, there’s no question in my mind. He's proven."

Perhaps the most frustrating -- and yet hopeful -- part of the situation is that Ferentz has seen improvement in the offense, especially between the spring, when Davis began installing his system, to fall camp.

"The next step is for it to show up on the game field," Ferentz said. "There’s no automatics in football. We’re going to have to make it happen."