Iowa football: Short-term gains from win vs. Northwestern might turn out to be fool's gold in the end
Multiple revelations can be true at the same time. People just need to be willing to look at situations with an open mind.
Take nothing away from Iowa’s 33-13 win over Northwestern. From the get-go, the Hawkeyes’ offense had life.
Spencer Pertas’ benching last weekend was a wake-up call, notifying him that if his lackluster effort in the loss to Ohio State was his best, he’d be spending the rest of the season on the pine.
He looked competent in the pocket, connecting with Sam LaPorta, Luke Lachey, Brody Brecht and others to move the chains. He found the end zone for the first time since Oct. 1, finally surpassed the 1,000-yard mark on the season and tacked on an early score with his legs.
Take nothing away from Iowa’s defense. That unit has never broken despite harsh circumstances. In more than 1 instance this year, Iowa can thank its secondary for being the x-factor in establishing what resembles winning football.
Saturday was the same story. The Hawkeyes flocked into the Wildcats’ backfield early, recording 3 sacks in the 1st half and 7 total. All-America cornerback Riley Moss looked like fresh snow, blanketing his side of the field and forcing Brendan Sullivan to look only to his right.
Iowa entered Saturday averaging 14 points per game. But by the time Kaevon Merriweather went airborne to nab his 2nd interception of the season, the Hawkeyes were up 20-0. Punter Tory Taylor, perhaps Iowa’s most trusted player, wasn’t needed until the 3rd quarter, a first for the Hawkeyes this season.
Spencer Petras’ final stat line: 21-for-30, 220 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT
— John Steppe (@JSteppe1) October 29, 2022
All that’s true. All that’s good. After Kirk and Brian Ferentz dialed up one of the worst game plans by an FBS team this season in Columbus, a conference win over the Kitty Kats was needed for the morale of Iowa City.
And yet, something felt off. Even in victory, there’s still a sour sense surrounding the program entering November. A win looks phenomenal in the record books, but it also leaves fans flocking out of Kinnick Stadium with questions.
We showed we can play good football. Why can’t we do this every Saturday?
An in-depth look at the numbers
Again, when people are willing to look at situations open-mindedly, multiple answers present themselves.
For as inept as Iowa’s offense has been, its defense has remained dependable. The Hawkeyes boast the No. 3 pass defense in the nation. They rank top 10 in total defense (278.3 yards per game) as well as scoring defense (16.1 points per game), while just missing the cut (at No. 14) defending the run (104.3 yards per game).
Watching a lackluster offense like Northwestern’s run rampant over Iowa would have been a surprise. Here’s where the Wildcats ranked offensively entering Kinnick Stadium Saturday:
- 44th passing
- 74th total offense
- 87th third-down conversions
- 100th rushing
- 119th scoring
Michigan’s top 10 offense struggled to find consistency until the 3rd quarter against Iowa. Did anyone expect Northwestern to magically wake up and drop a 40-burger on this secondary?
How about a 30? Maybe 20?
Iowa has scored 33 points today. Nearly 400 yards of offense. Gotta think there's an extension coming for Brian Ferentz.
— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) October 29, 2022
Unlike Iowa, Northwestern’s defense has been an ideal neighbor on Halloween with how it hands out points like candy. The Wildcats allowed FCS Southern Illinois to score 31 points — 17 of which came in the 4th quarter. Wisconsin, which fired Paul Chryst the week prior after scoring 10 points against Illinois, hung 42 before the final whistle.
Entering Saturday, here were Northwestern’s defensive numbers:
- 58th passing
- 80th scoring
- 97th total
- 111th opponents’ 3rd-down conversion rate
- 112th rushing
Do you see the difference?
Iowa won’t get that friendly of a matchup again this season.
A win for Iowa long-term?
Kirk Ferentz once again throughout the weekend defended his offensive coordinator and son, Brian, for the play-calling. Iowa totaled a season-high 393 yards of offense. And while Petras missed an open Arland Bruce IV for a touchdown in the 2nd quarter, plus failed to convert on 3rd down with 2 minutes left in the 3rd, the Hawkeyes added points nearly every possession.
Think Kirk is going to send Brian packing after a win? Better yet, the biggest win — margin-wise — of the year?
The offensive design was loaded with dink-and-dunk passes that would move the sticks and keep the clock rolling. That was expected. The rushing attack came to life, averaging 4.8 yards per attempt. Again, that was expected. Iowa converted 45% (5-of-11) on 3rd down and scored on 7 of its 8 drives.
Against one of the worst defenses in the nation, all that was expected. And because of it, Iowa looked like a well-oiled machine against a program that hasn’t won a game on American soil since last October.
Would results vary against a program like Purdue? Like Wisconsin? Like Nebraska? Fans will find out soon enough since those 3 B1G West teams are up next for the Hawkeyes.
A Happy Hawkeye Homecoming. pic.twitter.com/BsqsRGgaat
— Hawkeye Football (@HawkeyeFootball) October 29, 2022
The Hawkeyes still need to find red-zone balance. Twice Petras missed open receivers on 3rd down that led to chip shots from Drew Stevens, who finished with 4 field goals. While Bruce’s 23-yard jet sweep pushed the Hawkeyes over 30 points for the 1st time this season, how much does that matter if it’s against an opponent with more faults than a back road in the middle of Podunk Nowhere?
Kirk Ferentz wins because it’s another week where he’ll be able to protect Brian from outside criticism. Iowa (4-4, 2-3) wins since it remains alive (barely on life support) in the race for winning the B1G West. And fans win in the short term since they head back to the house on Homecoming weekend with a win.
But in the long run, Iowa is still Iowa.
Iowa can hold its own with the B1G bottom-dwellers. That shouldn’t be viewed as a step in the right direction. Just a bandage that temporarily stopped the bleeding.