Iowa football: Saturday’s breakout star might be key to opening up the offense
Seeing No. 6 sprint down the sideline for a Hawkeyes touchdown is not an unusual sight.
But for the first time in years, it wasn’t Ihmir Smith-Marsette behind the number.
It was true freshman Keagan Johnson — and he made an Ihmir-like impact in his first start.
He only made 2 catches, but led the team in receiving yards.
Future is bright
After a scoreless first quarter, the Hawkeyes needed a spark. Johnson provided it with the first of several “explosive plays” — a 43-yard touchdown that almost got lost in the sun.
“I lost the ball for about 3 seconds, but luckily it popped back into my vision,” Johnson said. “Can’t make excuses … it’s one of the elements. Grateful I came down with it. Felt good.”
It was his first catch at Iowa. His second went for 49 yards. They won’t be his last. He’s got Hawkeyes quarterback Spencer Petras’ eye.
“Any time I get that guy one-on-one, it’s something I’m going to take a look at,” Petras said. “He did a great job of beating his guy and really just outrunning him, and we were able to score. It was a great play by Keagan.”
Johnson also praised the chemistry he has with his quarterback.
“When I came out and saw press, me and Spencer we kind of know — we have that connection — know that I can win those deep balls,” Johnson said. “I was just hoping I could get off the line cleanly, and I did. Luckily we had that connection. Credit to Spencer, the ball couldn’t have been thrown any better. I just caught it and I was in the end zone. It was a crazy feeling. … Being in the right place, right time, doing what I’m supposed to do, me and Spencer on the same page. It played out that way, and I’m glad it did.”
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is, too.
“Really nice play today, and that was a beautiful throw, beautiful pattern and big play for us,” Ferentz said. “That’s something hopefully we can continue to build on.”
Impact on offense
It doesn’t necessarily mean there will be more throws downfield going forward.
“Part of it is the coverage you’re seeing and the way they were playing us,” Ferentz said. “Things were pretty crowded there in the middle, and we thought maybe we could isolate some guys outside. It was good to have some success there, certainly.”
But with a threat like Johnson on the outside, things could open up for some of the other receivers who haven’t found their rhythm just yet.
“We have a lot of guys in the receiver room that can make plays,” Johnson said. “I’m just out there doing what I can do to help the team. Felt like I got my feet wet. I felt more confident. First catch was a big catch. As I went out there more, you just feel more confident in your game, definitely.”
The Iowa offense can use all of the confidence it can get.
“We were by no means perfect — we have a long ways to go — but this was a good step,” Johnson said after the game. “Today was a start, but we have bigger goals in mind.”