Iowa City, Iowa – It’s wise not to overreact to a season opener, win or lose. There is a long way to go and the first race doesn’t always predict how the campaign will go.
In 2009, Iowa Football needed a late blocked field goal in Week 1 to top Northern Iowa. That team won the Orange Bowl. Two years ago, in a Covid-shortened season, the Hawkeyes started 0-2 before reeling off six straight wins.
That probably won’t ease the arm-wringing caused by Saturday’s 7-3 win against South Dakota State in the 2022 opener here at Kinnick Stadium. It shouldn’t. This team has a long way to go, especially on offense.
The Jackrabbits held Iowa to 166 total yards. He averaged 2.7 yards per play and converted just 4 of 17 third downs.
To call it ugly would be too kind. Coming off of last year’s historically poor production from this side, this is concerning.
Let’s talk more about it and other items in Howe’s High 5:
1. We’ll start on a positive note – Iowa punter Torey Taylor was the best player on the field in this one. The Australian punted seven of 10 inside SDSU’s 20-yard line and averaged 47.9 yards per punt. The Jackrabbits’ average starting position on 15 drives was their own 16-yard line.
Taylor averaged 46.1 yards per punt in ’21 and played a huge role in the Hawkeyes’ 10-game winning streak. He landed half of his kicks on the opponent 20.
The most memorable play on Saturday came early in the second quarter. He fired the punt long enough to give teammate Cooper DeJean time to run down the field and catch it at the SDSU 2.
2. Like Taylor, Iowa’s defense showed Saturday that it can be even better than it was a year ago. He held a veteran, high-powered Jackrabbit offense to 120 yards and six first downs. He also recorded two safeties, outscoring both offenses.
Linebacker Jack Campbell led the way with 12 tackles. Seven other Hawkeyes recorded at least four tackles.
In its 15-game season in 2021, South Dakota State’s offense averaged 6.9 yards per play. Saturday was 2.1.
3. While Iowa’s defense and special teams looked like they might be even better than ’21, which is hard to believe, the offense looked worse. When you consider it finished 121 of 130 FBS programs in total offense a year ago, that didn’t seem possible.
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It all started with the Hawkeye rush, or lack thereof, one Saturday. He gained 57 yards on 36 attempts.
SDSU loaded up to stop the run with Iowa depleted at receiver from injury and exhaustion. This disrespected the home side’s vertical passing game, which was a good strategy.
Starting quarterback Spencer Petras, in his third season as a starter, completed 11 of 25 passes for 109 yards and an interception. He connected on just three throws over 10 yards.
In addition to the issues at receiver, the offensive line struggled in camp and it showed. Logan Jones and Bo Stevens started their first college games on Saturday. Gennings Dunker also releases his first significant photos.
4. What should I do? Bench at quarterback? Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz? Punt first down?
While you may be nodding your head at all of this right now, don’t get your hopes up. Head coach Kirk Ferentz prefers to get back to work in hopes of improving the current plan before the change.
Petras wasn’t great on Saturday, but he put in a couple of passes that once again showed he’s capable. Inconsistency continued to be the main issue as he missed too many plays.
Running back LeShon Williams also showed promise, as did receiver Arland Bruce IV, who caught five of 10 targets for 68 yards. SDSU did a good job of putting away tight ends Sam LaPorta and Luke Lachey, who combined for three receptions for 15 yards.
5. There are no easy answers. Not that it needed to, but next week’s opponent, rival Iowa State, could use SDSU’s defensive plan — load the box and challenge the Hawkeyes to go down the pass.
Saturday, Iowa didn’t protect Petras well enough and he missed open receivers too often. The Jackrabbits laughed at the play-action.
The Hawkeyes have no choice but to ride their defense and special teams until the offense develops and brings guys back from injury. And there’s no guarantee it will happen.
You can’t make trades to fill holes in college football. You dance with the one who brought you.
Iowa needs the offense to dance a little faster. If it doesn’t, the defense and special teams will once again be asked to carry the entire load. And with a much tougher schedule in ’22, that’s an unfair ask.