Iowa football: Way-too-early look at 2022
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Iowa fell short in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day with a 20-17 loss to Kentucky to finish the 2021 season on a 2-game losing streak. While the conclusion was not what the Hawkeyes had hoped for, they won the B1G West with another double-digit win season.
Iowa finished with a 10-4 overall record and went 7-2 in conference play to win the division outright. The Hawkeyes reached as high as No. 2 in the country with an extremely opportunistic defense over the first half of the season, but never found consistent success offensively all year long.
The Hawkeyes were about as one-sided of a team as it gets in college football, and let’s wrap up what we saw in 2021 and take a look into the future of the team as Iowa heads into an important offseason.
What worked in 2021
Iowa forced a ton of turnovers, especially early on when the Hawkeyes had 20 takeaways in their first 6 games. Obviously, that’s not a sustainable way to win over the course of an entire season, but Iowa finished No. 4 nationally in takeaways per game against FBS opponents and No. 5 in turnover margin per game.
Overall, Iowa finished inside the top 15 on defense in yards per play, yards per rush attempt and yards per pass attempt. The Hawkeyes had a big year defensively in all aspects and deserved better from the other side of the ball.
Tyler Goodson rushed for 1,151 yards, and tight end Sam LaPorta was by far the Hawkeyes most consistent receiving threat. His 670 receiving yards were the highest on the team by more than 300 yards.
Iowa had a strong season on special teams as Tory Taylor averaged 45.9 yards per punt with 38 kicks pinned inside the 20-yard line and 25 that went 50 or more yards. Caleb Shudak connected on 24 of 28 field goals and did not miss an extra point. Charlie Jones developed into a solid returner on punts and kickoffs.
What didn’t work in 2021
The entire offense had a season-long malfunction that was never resolved, and it’s a bit of a miracle Iowa won as many games as it did. The Hawkeyes ranked No. 121 in yards per play against FBS opponents. It’s incredible Iowa found a way to get to 10 wins and win a Power 5 division when only 9 offenses of the 130 FBS teams were worse.
The Hawkeyes were not very efficient in running or passing as their rushing offense ranked No. 105 in yards per rush attempt, while the passing game finished at No. 111 in yards per pass attempt. Whether it was Spencer Petras or Alex Padilla under center, neither quarterback was able to move the ball with much consistency. The entire offense could use some offseason tweaking because nothing worked for this group in 2021.
Iowa will have one of the most intriguing quarterback battles to follow throughout the offseason because it’s anyone’s job at this point. Petras opened the season as the starting quarterback and completed 57.3% of his passes for 1,880 yards with 10 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Padilla had a much smaller sample size, but he completed just 49.1% of his throws for 636 yards with 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions.
The development of whoever winds up being the starter in Week 1 of 2022 should be the No. 1 item Iowa focuses on during this offseason. It is certainly not out of the question for the coaching staff to take a look at the transfer portal, but the Hawkeyes would risk losing one or both of their current top quarterbacks. Kirk Ferentz will need to make some difficult decisions this offseason at the most important position.
Iowa will be without Goodson, who opted out of the Citrus Bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft, so that will be a pretty big loss to an offense that struggled mightily. It remains to be seen what WR Charlie Jones and LaPorta will do, but the Hawkeyes could lose the top guys at the skill positions.
Safety Jack Koerner announced he will not return, so did defensive back Dane Belton, and Matt Hankins is out of eligibility. The Hawkeyes will need to replace some key pieces to their secondary.
Center Tyler Linderbaum is expected to be one of the top offensive line prospects in this spring’s NFL Draft. He has yet to publicly announce his plans to move on, but a return to Iowa would be a stunner.
If Iowa opts against grabbing a starting quarterback out of the transfer portal, whoever wins the Petras vs. Padilla battle is the most important returning player for the Hawkeyes offense. Iowa cannot win the West again with an offense that scares nobody.
Young running backs Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams should compete for carries with the loss of Goodson’s production.
Iowa will have a ton of new faces on defense with safety Kaevon Merriweather and cornerback Riley Moss as the only full-time defensive starters who are guaranteed to be returning. Moss announced he will be back, which is huge as he played a key role in the Hawkeyes defense in 2021 and won the Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year award.