Iowa football: 5 biggest areas of concern ... and possible solutions
Iowa is coming off a B1G West title and competed for the conference championship for the first time since 2015 last season. With how much of a success 2021 was for the program, there are still big concerns looking ahead to the fall.
Here’s a look at 5 of the biggest issues and how they can be solved.
Concern: No matter who lined up under center for the Hawkeyes in 2021, things did not go well for Iowa’s passing game. The season started with Spencer Petras at quarterback before Alex Padilla took over. Nobody separated himself from the competition to be named the starting QB looking ahead to next season, so this position battle will be one to watch this offseason.
Solution: This is a huge offseason for both quarterbacks, and maybe the competition will bring the best out of whoever winds up being the Week 1 starter. In addition to Petras and Padilla, head coach Kirk Ferentz said he is excited to see Joey Labas, so there’s no reason to rule him to be out of the mix.
Petras completed 57.3% of his passes on 288 attempts for 1,880 yards with 10 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in 2021. Meanwhile, Padilla completed 49.1% of throws on 112 attempts for 636 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. Labas is the unknown as last season’s third-string quarterback without any game experience, but he saw some valuable reps during preparation for the bowl game. The production from the quarterback position needs to be better and somebody needs to separate himself, whether that comes during spring practice or fall camp.
Concern: Obviously the poor quarterback play was a big part of how bad Iowa’s offense was in 2021, but there wasn’t a whole lot that went right with the rushing either. It’s pretty incredible Iowa won 10 games despite an offense that ranked No. 121 nationally in yards per play against FBS opponents.
Solution: The staple of Iowa’s offense is a powerful ground game, so that will need to be fixed as soon as possible for the Hawkeyes to move the ball down the field playing their style. Iowa will have a new starting running back with Tyler Goodson off to the NFL, and the two most likely players to take over as the No. 1 back are Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams, both of whom played well in the Citrus Bowl.
For as much criticism as was heaped on the passing game — which ranked No. 111 in yards per attempt – the running game finished at No. 105 in yards per rush attempt. Whether either of the Williamses take control or a freshman makes a case for playing time, Iowa needs the ground game to get going.
Concern: The Hawkeyes return a ton of production on the defensive side of the ball, but they will be replacing safeties Dane Belton and Jack Koerner in addition to cornerback Matt Hankins, all of whom started plenty of college football games during their time at Iowa.
Solution: Even though this is the biggest concern on the defense in terms of the quality of players leaving, the Hawkeyes are in good hands with the replacement options. Cornerback Riley Moss is back after being named the B1G Defensive Back of the Year, and the other corner spot will likely come down to Jermari Harris and Terry Roberts.
Kaevon Merriweather is a quality safety, and 5-star freshman Xavier Nwankpa will find a role in this secondary. Iowa intercepted 25 passes last season, and while it’s extremely likely that number will decrease, the Hawkeyes have plenty of playmakers ready to change games with a turnover.
Concern: In addition to having an excellent defense, Iowa needed elite special teams play to make up for the struggles offensively, and that’s what the Hawkeyes had in 2021. All of the key special teams members will return except for kicker Caleb Shudak, who had an excellent season. He connected on 24 of 28 field goal attempts and never missed an extra point on 36 tries.
Solution: The first player who will likely get a shot to handle the field goals and extra points will be Aaron Blom. He hasn’t attempted a field goal or extra point early in college yet, and other candidates include Lucas Amaya and Drew Stevens. It’s difficult to know what to project for a kicker at the college level, but whoever emerges will have a crucial role for a team that could find itself in plenty of close games.
If the Hawkeyes identify a solid replacement for Shudak, this should be another big season for Iowa’s special teams. Tory Taylor is one of the best punters in the country, and Charlie Jones was named the B1G Specialist of the Year as the team’s kick returner and punt returner. Both will be back, and Iowa’s special teams should remain one of the best in the if a quality kicker emerges.
Concern: Iowa benefitted from an easier B1G slate in 2021, but the Hawkeyes will have a much more difficult schedule this fall. In addition to games against West teams, the divisional crossover opponents are Ohio State, Michigan and Rutgers. The Buckeyes and Wolverines are the two best teams in the conference, and Rutgers is going in the right direction under Greg Schiano.
Solution: Outside of some sort of mischievous behavior that could include illegal practices, there’s not a whole lot Iowa can do about its schedule at this point. The Hawkeyes’ crossover opponents in 2021 included Indiana and Penn State — both of which fell way short of expectations — and Maryland, which isn’t good enough to scare a quality team like the Hawkeyes.
Since the B1G separated teams into East and West divisions in 2014, no team has lost more than two conference games and still won a division. The Hawkeyes will likely need to run the table against every opponent outside of Michigan and Ohio State or pull off an upset in one of those games to get back to Indianapolis.