Better or worse? Previewing Iowa’s offense in 2021
After a sluggish start through its first 2 games, Iowa’s offense regrouped for a solid 2020 campaign. Iowa finished 6-2, runner-up in the B1G West and ranked No. 16 in the AP Poll. This was Iowa’s 6th consecutive season with a .600 winning percentage or higher and 8th winning season in a row.
Iowa scored 20 points apiece in both losses, and then scored at least 35 points 4 times, as they closed the season on a 6-game winning streak. Iowa ranked 2nd in the B1G in points per game (31.8), 6th in rushing yards per game (171.0), 8th in total yards per game (368.6) and 11th in passing yards per game (197.6).
Iowa scored a season-high 49 points in a 42-point victory vs. Michigan State. Iowa’s highest point total on the road was 41 in a 20-point victory at Penn State.
The key offensive returners for Iowa are quarterback Spencer Petras, running back Tyler Goodson and center Tyler Linderbaum. Iowa lost offensive linemen Alaric Jackson and Cole Banwart, wide receivers Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette, running back Mekhi Sargent and tight end Shaun Beyer.
So what should we expect from the Iowa offense in 2021? Let’s break it down:
Passing offense: Better
Petras had many mediocre performances in his first season as the starting quarterback. However, he finally started to showcase his potential with 431 passing yards and 5 touchdowns in the last 2 games, against Illinois and Wisconsin.
Petras will have beat Alex Padilla and Deuce Hogan as the biggest battle on offense will be the quarterback competition.
“We’re going keep an open mind for every position,” Iowa coach Ferentz said per 247Sports. “But Spencer clearly has that experience. He didn’t a year ago, but now he does. He did a good job through spring practice, start to finish.”
Petras showed flashes that he can be Iowa’s long-term answer, but Padilla and Hogan are both intriguing options who will push the incumbent.
With Smith-Marsette and Smith gone, Tyrone Tracy has the athleticism, versatility and power to be Iowa’s No. 1 wide receiving option. Tracy amassed 36 receptions, 589 yards and 4 touchdowns in 2019. With more targets coming his way in 2021, Tracy is striving to be the “best wide receiver in the Big Ten” and “hit 1,000 yards,” via 247Sports.
Nico Ragaini will be one of the other key options at wide receiver. Ragaini should serve as a reliable catching threat across the middle. The redshirt junior regressed with just 18 receptions last season after leading Iowa with 46 receptions in 2019. However, a major factor for the decrease was a reduction in targets because of the presence of Smith-Marsette, Brandon Smith and tight end Sam LaPorta.
A key newcomer to the starting lineup will be Charlie Jones. Jones provided an excellent spark for Iowa as a punt returner, leading the B1G in yards per return. Jones flashed his potential at wide receiver last training camp with many acrobatic receptions. The Iowa offense will be even more dynamic by carving out a role for Jones.
LaPorta, who led Iowa with 27 receptions last season, returns as another solid pass catcher for Petras.
Running game: Better
Goodson enters 2021 as one of the most explosive running backs in the B1G. Goodson earned first-team All-B1G honors during a season in which he had 4 games of at least 100 rushing yards. In total, Goodson amassed 762 yards and 7 touchdowns.
A bulked-up Goodson could be even more dangerous this season.
“I’ve definitely gotten a lot thicker; I’ll say that,” Goodson said via 247Sports. “I feel a lot stronger. When I take contact, I feel I can feel the power that I’m exerting from my legs to my whole body. The strength staff has been doing a great job of just taking care of my body, not just throwing loads of weight to injure myself, whether that’s low joints or big muscles.”
With Sargent gone, depth is an aspect that will need to be addressed. Ivory Kelly-Martin is the most experienced backup running back and he only tallied 13 carries last season.
Linderbaum, who was selected as a unanimous All-American, played an integral role in Iowa’s potent rushing attack and is arguably Iowa’s best player. Offensive guard Kyler Schott is regarded as one of the best returning interior linemen in the nation. As a whole, Pro Football Focus ranked Iowa’s offensive line as a top-3 unit in the country.
Kicking game: Worse
Departing senior Keith Duncan converted 14-of-18 field-goal tries and all 26 extra points in 2020. Duncan amassed 252 points during his 3 seasons. Duncan was a consensus All-American in 2019 after setting a B1G record with 29 field goals. So yeah, he’ll be missed.
Caleb Shudak has been an admirable backup kicker during his career and will need to make the transition seamlessly in order for Iowa to not regress in the kicking game. Shudak has served as Iowa’s kickoff man for the past 2 seasons.
Shudak might not rise to the lofty standard set by Duncan. However, as long as he’s serviceable and efficient, Iowa will have enough support to register enough points to be competitive in B1G play.
Meanwhile, Jones led the B1G in yards per punt return last season and delivered a spectacular 54-yard punt return score vs. Michigan State. The dynamic Jones should see action at both punt returner and kick returner this season.
Petras is more experienced, Goodson has a great shot at being the most productive running back in the B1G, the offensive line is promising, and the wide receiving corps has some intriguing options. Plus, special teams could once again be exceptional if Shudak elevates his game and Jones continues on his trajectory.
The success of Iowa’s offense will come down to Petras. If Petras can take a step forward and click with the skill position players, there’ll be the chance for a ton of chunk yardage.
Add it all up and Iowa’s offense should be even better in 2021.