IOWA CITY — An extra yard here, a couple of yards there — the coaches of the playmakers on the Iowa offense are looking for way to get more out of their personnel.
Running backs coach Derrick Foster and receivers coach Kelton Copeland said the Hawkeyes’ objective during the stretch run of the regular season will be to increase production to complement the work of 19th-ranked Iowa’s defense.
As it prepares for next Saturday’s 3 p.m. game at Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes are currently 10th in the Big Ten in scoring and ninth in total offense, collecting its average of 392.6 yards per game with a rushing attack that ranks ninth in the league and a passing game which ranks as the fourth best in the Big Ten.
"We would like for the run game to be better," Foster said. "The fortunate thing going into the bye week is we have a chance to concentrate on that and look to get better."
Iowa currently averages 145.8 yards per game on the ground, with Mekhi Sargent, Toren Young and Tyler Goodson all rushing for between 39.5 and 55.4 yards per game.
As a team, Iowa is averaging 3.9 yards rush, just under the 4.0 per carry Iowa averaged last season and more than a yard shy of the average gain of 5 yards per rush the Hawkeyes targeted as a goal heading into the season.
Before turning their attention to the Badgers, the Hawkeyes’ attention this week has been centered on the details.
"The placement of the eyes, the placement of the bodies, those are things we can work on. They are areas where we can get better and things we can fix as needed," Foster said.
"We need our guys to see the field in front of them better, to have their bodies in the right positions to fulfill their responsibilities better. That’s where we’re working right now."
Foster believes Iowa backs have built a solid foundation this season but need to fine-tune details to create the opportunities for larger gains throughout the rest of the season.
Goodson is second on the team to Sargent with 64 rushing attempts this season, and among Hawkeye running backs, his average of 4.9 yards per carry is second to the 5.8 yards Young has averaged on his 62 rushes.
"When we put him in some crucial situations, he didn’t budge," Foster said. "He took great care of the football and did what we asked him to do. He took care of the ball, he took care of the quarterback."
That allowed Goodson to expand his workload.
"I think he’s earned that trust," Foster said. "He’s earned that right to be on the football field."
Copeland expects growth from the Hawkeyes’ wide receivers despite the injury that is expected to continue to keep leading receiver Brandon Smith off the field again next week against Wisconsin.
Smith leads the Hawkeyes with 33 receptions, two more than Nico Ragaini and three more than Ihmir Smith-Marsette have recorded through Iowa’s 6-2 start.
Tyrone Tracy, who has 17 catches on the season, is receiving more reps in Smith’s absence, and Goodson is providing additional help out of the running back position with 19 catches on the year.
"It really comes down to matchups. As we saw, Tyler Goodson has lined up at wide receiver and has made some very impressive plays for us," Copeland said.
"It’s not necessarily how many of ‘my guys,’ so to speak, are on the field, whether it is one or four. It’s more about whoever is going to give us the best chance to win."
The emphasis, Copeland said, is on the detail work that can lead to a handful of difference-making yards.
That extends up and down the depth chart.
Asked about the lack of work for Michigan transfer Oliver Martin, Copeland said the sophomore who has caught five passes in the seven games he has appeared in is still in a learning phase after getting his first glimpse at a Hawkeye playbook five months ago.
"Everybody wants Oliver to play right now, and it’s kind of unfair," Copeland said. "It takes a lot to learn what’s being asked of you on a day-to-day basis. To his credit, he’s done a really good job of being accountable. I have no issues with Oliver off the field."
Mostly, Copeland said, Martin is simply working to get up to speed with his teammates and gain the consistency it takes earn more snaps in games.
"He’s one of those guys I’m looking for improvement because obviously there’s opportunity with Brandon being out," Copeland said.
As Iowa moves into its final four games of the regular season, the ability of Hawkeyes to seize those opportunities is at the core of the growth potential for Iowa.
"It’s about sharpening the ax, getting guys refreshed and ready," Foster said. "Every snap matters."