IOWA CITY — The question made Dalton Ferguson and Ross Reynolds laugh.
Iowa’s offense had the ball for 40 minutes, 55 seconds in last Saturday’s 23-0 win over Maryland at Kinnick Stadium.
What did the offensive line think of that number?
“I thought the defense had a nice game, relaxing over there,” joked Ferguson, the Hawkeyes’ right guard.
“I guess like it kind of felt like we had (the ball) for a while, but I didn’t realize how long we had it,” said Reynolds, the starting left guard.
“I thought it was pretty cool,” said right tackle Tristan Wirfs. “We had some long drives out there. It definitely felt like we had the ball a long time.”
Time of possession can be an overrated statistic at times, but it hasn’t been for the Hawkeyes, who rank 10th in the category among Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
It’s a stat that is the combination of both side of the ball — a defense that can get on and off the field in a minimum of plays, and an offense that can grind the turf and the clock.
“The main goal every week is play complementary football,” Ferguson said. “If the defense is out there for a long time, give them a break. As an offense, we want to establish longer drives.”
“When you run the ball well, when you control the time of possession, the odds are you’re going to win the football game,” safety Jake Gervase said.
Some of what happened last Saturday was the product of weather conditions — the swirling wind made it difficult to have a consistent passing game.
That meant the Hawkeyes had to run the ball — they had 224 rushing yards on 52 carries.
Iowa ran 76 plays to Maryland’s 39.
“All of the credit goes to the offense — they did a great job of responding to those tough conditions,” Gervase said. “I think they were getting a little tired because we kept getting three-and-outs. I think they had like 80 reps, we only had about 40.”
Iowa had five drives of 10 plays or more. Maryland’s longest drive was eight plays, and the Terrapins ran just two plays all game in Iowa territory.
“(The defense) got themselves off the field, and our offensive line did a good job of keeping our defense off the field,” Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley said. “It definitely builds a lot of confidence, knowing we can hold the ball and drive the ball for that long. It continues to build every drive, every game.”
The long drives don’t seem that long.
“The first game of the year for me, I felt like I was out there for five hours,” Ferguson said. “Once you get going, everything kind of flies by. You focus on the details of each play. I think the third drive, maybe the second drive (on Saturday), it was like a 12-play drive, it felt like I was out there for four or five plays. You don’t really think about it, the mental fatigue or the physical fatigue.”
Iowa’s offensive line has been a cohesive unit even with changes. Only Reynolds and center Keegan Render have started every game at their positions.
Ferguson was the starter at left tackle in the season opener against Northern Illinois, then moved to right guard in the third game against Northern Iowa. Wirfs and left tackle Alaric Jackson, suspended for the opener, have played every game at their position since their return. Cole Banwart started the first two games at right guard. Levi Paulsen started the opener at right tackle.
Ferguson said that bond started in the offseason.
“Us seniors talked about being a more cohesive team,” Ferguson said. “We thought, in years past, we were good. But we weren’t all best friends, hanging out with each other. We made that a premium, and I think that’s paid off.”
Reynolds said the offensive linemen did their offseason weightlifting at the same time, plus they’re together for film study.
“It’s just hanging out,” Reynolds said. “It can’t just be an offseason thing. It has to continue into the season.”
“Mostly hanging out,” Ferguson said. “Getting food.”
“Classic lineman thing,” Ferguson said.
Long drives are becoming a classic Iowa thing. It’s all about the bond.
“It just boils down to communication,” Ferguson said. “When we’re out there, we know what each person’s tendencies are going to be. Being able to hang out with each other, understand that, has helped us to grow.”