Better or worse? Previewing Iowa's offense in 2022
Iowa posted another strong season under head coach Kirk Ferentz in 2021, winning 10 games and the B1G West in the process. Unfortunately, the Hawkeyes were blown out in the B1G Championship Game and lost a nail-biter to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl.
The Hawkeyes have now won 10 games in 2 of the past 3 seasons while going 6-2 in the shortened COVID season of 2020. That should have optimism in Iowa City rising heading into 2022.
On the offensive side of the ball, it’s hard to believe how poor Iowa played while winning 10 games. The Hawkeyes averaged just 23.4 points per game and struggled time and time again to generate consistent offense.
How bad was that performance? Prior to 2021, you would have to go back all the way to 2016 to find the last time Iowa averaged less than 25 points. The Hawkeyes averaged 24.9 points per game and went 8-5 that season.
In order to find a worse offensive output than the 2021 squad, you would have to go all the way back to 2012 when the Hawkeyes managed just 19.3 points per game. That was the last time Iowa failed to reach bowl eligibility while finishing 4-8.
With such a poor performance in 2021, the temptation is real to pencil in a better showing for the team in 2022. Unfortunately, a number of question marks still exist for the Hawkeyes as they try to defend the B1G West.
Passing Offense: Better
For all their struggles at quarterback in 2021, the Hawkeyes return their most production on the offensive side of the ball in the passing game. That includes Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla in the QB room and the top 3 receivers from that 2021 squad all coming back.
In terms of the coaching staff, Iowa shifted OC Brian Ferentz to also lead the QB room for 2022. Whether or not that move works is up for plenty of debate, but there was plenty of room left for improvement following 2021.
Petras and Padilla combined to complete 55% of passes with 12 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Those two have to be better, but it should also not be hard to improve on the 180 passing yards per game, thanks in large part to the amount of returning production on the outside.
Leading receiver – tight end Sam LaPorta – is back after 670 yards receiving and 3 touchdowns. Keagan Johnson – the team’s best deep threat at 19.6 yards per catch – is also back after a strong freshman campaign.
Veteran Nico Ragaini and rising sophomore Arland Bruce IV are also back. Rising sophomore TE Luke Lachey is also a notable piece after averaging 16.6 yards per catch on his 8 receptions.
Losing Tyrone Tracy Jr. and Charlie Jones is undoubtedly a hit to Iowa’s depth. Fortunately, the Hawkeyes have the pieces to rebound, but it will take some growth out of a number of young players.
Rushing Offense: Even
The performance of Tyler Goodson helped overshadow how dreadful the ground game of the Hawkeyes proved to be last season. Goodson led the team with 1,151 yards on the ground and 6 touchdowns while sporting an efficient 4.5 yards per carry.
Unfortunately, Iowa averaged just 123.8 rushing yards per game as a team while averaging 3.4 yards per carry. It marked the first season averaging less than 130 rushing yards per game since 2012 when the Hawkeyes averaged 123 yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry.
While it is hard to project Iowa’s rushing game getting better, there is not much concern about the Hawkeyes taking a step back from that mark. Even without a ton of experience, Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams provide a few pieces for Iowa to build the ground game around, a task that becomes even easier if the passing game does indeed take a step forward.
Special Teams: Worse
There’s no doubt about this one. The loss of Charlie Jones – the B1G’s Returner of the Year – hurts. For an offense that struggled to generate consistent drives, Jones helped flip the field and generate yards on special teams.
Jones produced 285 yards on punt returns. He also had 635 yards and a touchdown while averaging 25.4 yards per kick return.
The kicking game is more difficult to try and project. While Caleb Shudak drilled 24-of-28 field goal attempts last season, finding an accurate kicker has not been a problem for the Hawkeyes in recent history.
Miguel Recinos converted 76.3% of his kicks from 2015-18 without missing an extra point and Keith Duncan hit on 82.5% of his kicks from 2016-20. The Hawkeyes should be able to find a viable replacement at kicker, but it’s the loss of Jones that is the big blow to the special teams unit for 2022.
Iowa has a chance to improve on its 2021 numbers, mainly because it was one of the worst performances in a decade for the program. There is also the chance that adding QB duties to Brian Ferentz’s OC role is the perfect mix with the offense growing into a balanced attack.
Unfortunately, that is a lot to expect from a unit losing a 1,000-yard rusher and expecting lots of growth from an inaccurate QB room and young receivers. Trying to predict where the Hawkeyes find their offense in 2022 is a very complicated picture, and it is hard to see that unit being any better as a whole than they were in 2021.