Iowa football: 10 takeaways from the 2022 regular season
Every national pundit was ready to bury Iowa in late October.
The Hawkeyes, after a 54-10 loss at Ohio State on Oct. 23, were 3-4 and featured an offense incapable of registering 1st downs let alone touchdowns.
Longtime coach Kirk Ferentz was under the gun from the media and the fans. The primary target was Ferentz’s son, Brian, the offensive coordinator and by that title the leader of the Hawks’ listless attack.
But in typical Ferentz fashion, he rallied the troops and righted the ship. Iowa won 4 straight before a season-ending loss to Nebraska in Iowa City derailed the Hawks’ B1G West title hopes.
Yes, the Hawkeyes’ defense — one of the nation’s best — did their part. But it was the slight improvement of the offense, and quarterback Spencer Petras, that helped get Iowa’s season back on the right track before Friday’s disappointing finale.
Here are 10 key takeaways from Iowa’s crazy 2022 regular season.
1) Never count Ferentz, Hawkeyes out
If we’ve learned anything, it’s you can’t count a Kirk Ferentz team out. Yes, Iowa was spinning its wheels early on. The offense was an embarrassment that seemed to get worse, not better, by the week.
But Ferentz isn’t the dean of B1G coaches for no reason. He’s seen it all over his 23 years as the Hawks’ head man. He doesn’t panic. He rarely makes a rash decision.
The 2022 regular season is some of his best work. It wasn’t an easy season in Iowa City. Reporters questioned why Iowa hadn’t removed Petras from the QB position and given backup Alex Padilla a shot. His son was under tremendous scrutiny.
But through it all, Ferentz kept encouraging his team and staff. The message was to take it week by week. Don’t quit. And in the midst of a chaotic year in the B1G West, that week-to-week mindset almost paid off. A few breaks, and the Hawks are headed to Indy. It wasn’t quite meant to be.
2) Phil Parker remains 1 among best defensive minds in country
Iowa’s turnaround doesn’t stand a chance of happening without the steady presence of defensive coordinator Phil Parker.
Parker is in his 11th season as the Hawks’ DC and 24th overall in Iowa City. He’s one of 15 semifinalists for the Frank Broyles Award given to the nation’s top assistant coach.
His defense is 4th in the B1G in points allowed (14.4) and 2nd in yards allowed (277.9). Parker’s defense has held 8 of its 12 opponents to 10 points or less.
Each week the defense showed up and kept the Hawks in the game while the offense sputtered. Parker continues to shine as 1 of the best defensive coaches out there.
3) Road warriors
Iowa proved to be formidable on the road. Wins over Rutgers, Purdue and Minnesota — all on the road — helped Iowa salvage its season.
And once again, defense was the theme. In all 3 road wins, the Hawkeyes held their opponents to 10 points or less. They shut down the Aidan O’Connell-led Purdue attack, yielding just a field goal.
Playing sound defense on the road is key in this league. Not many do it better than Iowa.
4) Belief in Petras paid off
The 3rd-year starter struggled mightily in 2022. But when all is said and done, Petras’ numbers surpassed those of his sophomore and junior seasons.
Petras entered the Nebraska game needing just 9 completions to match his 2021 total. His injury Friday proved disappointing. He’s thrown 5 picks on the year, and while being the target of a lot of fan angst, has actually taken care of the football quite well.
One noticeable difference is Petras’ November numbers. His completion percentage increased to over 60%, with none of his INTs occurring over the stretch. The trust and patience Kirk and Brian Ferentz showed in their veteran QB paid off for Iowa.
5) Jack Campbell is among nation’s elite defenders
Campbell proved week in and week out he’s 1 of the nation’s elite defenders. Campbell’s presence from his middle linebacker position showed up big time in the 13-10 win over Minnesota.
Campbell forced a key fumble on Gophers RB Mo Ibrahim, thwarting a drive deep in Hawkeyes’ territory. Later, his INT and 30-yard return helped set up the winning FG with 46 seconds remaining.
“You need your best guys playing their best, and Jack shows up every week and does that,” Ferentz said after the Minnesota win.
Campbell, a finalist for the Butkus Award, has 2 straight seasons of recording well over 100 tackles.
6) Iowa does not beat itself
A continuous theme of Ferentz-coached teams is winning the turnover battle. The 2022 Hawkeyes are no exception.
It’s seldom pretty, but often effective. Iowa takes care of the football. The Hawks don’t beat themselves. Iowa is +4 against its opponents on turnover margin (20-16). Winning the battle more times than not puts you position to win.
And with a dominant defense, which Iowa has, forcing those turnovers more than your opponent creates short fields for your offense. It was a key factor in the win over Minnesota on Nov. 19.
But the final game proved fatal for the Hawks. Giving up 3 fumbles to the Huskers proved costly. It was an anomaly to the season that Hawks’ fans will lament going forward.
7) Upgrades needed on offense for 2023
Although Iowa rebounded to finish the regular season, it goes without saying the offense needs some major upgrades. Ferentz and his staff need to zero in on some elite playmakers in the offseason. Find a receiver who can stretch the field. A back with breakaway speed.
The offense ranked No. 13 in the B1G, putting up just over 17 points per game. That’s OK when you have a stellar defense like Iowa does, but it’s not going to cut it against the big boys of the league (hence, the 54-10 loss at Ohio State).
Iowa could use an athletic dual-threat option at QB as well. Petras is a statue in the pocket. Lack of mobility and ability to make something out of nothing hinders the unit. A few upgrades at key positions would do wonders.
8) Hawks are the new bullies of B1G West
Iowa can claim its new status. Bullies of the West. Yes, they dropped a prime opportunity. But it’s still hard to argue.
It used to be Wisconsin’s division, but until the Badgers reclaim their perch, Iowa has bragging rights. The Hawks won the street fight vs. Bucky in Iowa City this year. They’ve beaten Minnesota 8 straight times. Nebraska 7 of 8.
Until someone else steps up, the Hawks are the best in the West.
9) Purdue game was the turning point
Yes, the Hawks beat lowly Northwestern the week before. But few gave Iowa a chance against Purdue in West Lafayette Nov. 5.
The Hawkeyes had other ideas. Parker’s defense stole the show, shutting down O’Connell and the Boilers’ high-powered offense. Kaleb Johnson ran for 200 yards and a score in the 24-3 win.
Had Iowa not won in West Lafayette, we’d be discussing why they missed a bowl game. But Iowa kept battling. Just like it always does.
10) Iowa remains Tight End U
Iowa continues to pump out NFL-caliber tight ends, and 2022 was no different. Sam LaPorta and Luke Lachey provided a lethal 1-2 punch at the position.
Everyone remembers the Noah Fant/TJ Hockenson combo. Both those guys are doing OK for themselves at the next level.
LaPorta, a senior, has put himself in a good position to play at the next level. Lachey, a sophomore, has shined as well. Even more so after LaPorta was banged up late in the year.
The Hawkeyes continue to pump out quality tight ends year in and year out.