Iowa midseason report card: Any passing grades on offense?
Remember back in the day when your parents would be called into your 4th-grade classroom? Remember how the teacher would be smiling down, knowing she holds the power of either you getting ice cream or getting grounded for the weekend?
Report cards suck. Always have, and always will. And even when the grade was promising, the teacher would sneak in a simple “here’s where they can improve” just to twist the knife in front of your parents.
That’s where we’re at with Iowa football. Defensively, there’s some promise for the remainder of the season. Offensively, can they just be sent to detention?
Or maybe play-calling tutoring?
Sitting at 3-3 on the bye, Kirk Ferentz’s roster should be taking the week to reevaluate their position in the B1G West. Surprisingly, a divisional title still isn’t out of the question, though the Hawkeyes are in “must-win” mode from here on out.
Let’s sit down with the Hawkeyes’ fan base and look back and take a look back at the positives (yes, there’s some) and negatives (oh nelly, there’s a lot) from the 1st half of the regular season, shall well?
Wow. Um, where to begin?
Spencer Petras stands behind the center and takes the snap. From time to time, he’ll find a receiver downfield for a minimal gain. Most of the time, he trusts either his tight ends for gains of 2 or 3 yards or he throws dump passes to his running backs behind the line of scrimmage for negative yards.
This season, Petras has completed more than 65% of his passes once in 6 games. He’s finished with a completion rating below 55% on 4 occasions. Against Iowa State, he threw the ball 26 times for 97 yards. Against No. 4 Michigan, he threw for over 240 yards and connected with Luke Lachey for a touchdown.
There’s no “wow” factor with Petras. There might not even be an “I exist” factor with the senior passer at this point in his career. And while it’s easy to point fingers at the mastermind behind the play design, Brian Ferentz isn’t out there overshooting or underthrowing receivers.
The worst part is that Ferentz is riding it out this season with Petras, meaning there’s little-to-no faith in Alex Padilla. If plain oatmeal on a weekend was a football player, it would be Iowa’s starting quarterback.
Running Backs: D-
Is pounding the rock better than passing it? Yes. By much? Lol, nope.
Iowa currently is ranked 126th in rushing, 126th in yards per carry and is tied with 8 other programs for 111th in rushing touchdowns. Kaleb Johnson and Leshon Williams both have over 200 yards on the season, but neither is averaging more than 4.6 yards per attempt. The depth behind the duo is putrid, to say the least, as 5 other rushers are averaging less than 3.3 yards per attempt.
Iowa’s passing attack is so abysmal that fans are hoping to watch the team run. At least then the clock keeps ticking away, giving folks hope that the game ends in under 4 hours.
Wide receivers: Incomplete
Remember in math class where you had to find the variable? There was always a question like 2X + y = z, right?
Well, 2 is the number of touchdowns Petras (or X) has thrown all season. Y are the receivers who can’t step up and make plays because of the passing. Z is the first of many zzzzz snored during offensive outings.
It’s hard to truly judge the Hawkeyes’ pass-catchers when they’re barely touching the ball. Nico Ragaini leads all Iowa receivers with 13 catches for 157 yards. Arland Bruce is close behind with 14 catches for 147 yards. And outside of those 2, 3 other “legit” receivers have combined for 7 catches and 84 yards.
Petras has completed 89 (yes, your eyes are not deceiving you) passes in 6 games. Only 34 have gone to receivers — 4 more than the leading target.
Speaking of which …
Tight ends: A
A passing grade! Yes! Pop the bubbly and celebrate!
Tight end U continues to live up to its name with both Sam LaPorta and Lachey making plays on the regular. LaPorta’s 30 catches leads all tight ends in B1G play and ranks 3rd among FBS options. Lachey has improved as a run blocker and is 2nd on the team in receptions. He also is part of an elite squad known as the ‘Hawkeyes with a receiving touchdown.’ This is his story.
With how bad the rest of the offense has looked, we round up to the nearest full letter to help with the final grade. LaPorta should be the next great Iowa tight end in the pros like George Kittle, TJ Hockenson or Noah Fant. Unless he transfers, Lachey is coming back in 2023, so expect him to be a preseason John Mackey favorite.
As is tradition in Iowa City.
Offensive line: C-
At the quarter mark, Iowa likely would be sitting with a B-type grade. It’s a young unit with 4 sophomores and 3 new starters. The 5-man front is doing its best to learn the positions and blend after losing veterans like All-American Tyler Linderbaum and Nick DeJong.
Then came conference play, and all the positives went out the window. Okay, not all, but there’s room for a lot of improvement.
The Hawkeyes’ 18 sacks allowed ranks 13th in B1G play. It ranks 112th among all FBS schools and is 8th from the bottom among Power 5 schools. In the last 3 games, Iowa has allowed at least 3 sacks each time. In last week’s snoozer that was a 9-6 win for Illinois, the Hawkeyes allowed a season-high 5 sacks.
Part of that is on Petras holding the ball forever in the pocket. Part of that is on youth. It’s equal parts revolting and near unbearable to watch. At least 1 unit can improve with age, right?
Defensive line: B+
Finally, it’s time to talk about the positives found on Saturdays at Kinnick Stadium. Let’s start with the front 4.
Iowa has 6 defensive linemen with at least 1.5 sacks. Five players have at least 4 tackles for loss, and 2 more have at least a pair. As a run unit, Iowa is holding opponents to 110.7 yards per game. It ranks top 15 in yards per carry at 3.03.
What does this mean? Iowa’s front 7 isn’t letting opponents break free into the open field. Most of the time, a 1st or 2nd down stop for minimal gain forces opposing offenses to pass on 3rd down. If the secondary does its job, drives usually end in punts.
The only negative is there hasn’t been a breakout player. Sure, Lukas Van Ness has 3 sacks, but it’s only 1 more than Deontae Craig. He’s also only recorded 1 takedown in B1G play, meaning most of his production has come against lesser competition.
For a team that’s surviving because of its defense, it’s a nit-picking critique. Could the Hawkeyes be better? To an extent, yes, but it’s not enough to penalize them.
‘BUILD A STATUE OF JACK CAMPBELL AND PROSPER!’
Campbell is the leading man in the middle, but he also has been Iowa’s best player. He has 62 tackles through 6 games, and has totaled double-digit stops in 4 games. The 6-foot-5 senior also has tallied 3 tackles for loss and recovered a fumble.
Seth Benson is an ideal Robin to Campbell’s Batman. If the big dog misses, the sidekick is there to clean up the mess. And Benson has been consistent in the open field. He also is the better of the 2 in coverage, often doing his best to eliminate running backs from the play.
The duo has combined for 24% of Iowa’s defensive stops. That alone is impressive enough. Thank goodness for the veterans up the middle for salvaging a lost year. And again, the Hawkeyes are still “technically” in the race.
You know when you check the report and you’re shocked that you’re actually crushing it in 1 subject that you thought might be challenging? Meet Iowa’s secondary!
The Hawkeyes have held opponents to an average of 154 yards through the air, 4th-best among all FBS programs. They’ve allowed just 3 passing touchdowns and recorded 6 interceptions. Riley Moss continues to blanket his side of the field in coverage and should be preparing his acceptance speech when named an All-American. Meanwhile, both Terry Roberts and Kaevon Merriweather have vastly improved in coverage.
Copper DeJean has been one of the biggest surprises in both coverage and defending the run. The sophomore is a human highlight reel with hard-hitting tackles near the line of scrimmage, but also when playing in coverage. Take a look at this interception right here:
COOPER DEJEAN CROSS COUNTRY PICK 6! pic.twitter.com/7ol7nLY35N
— Heavens!👻 (@HeavensFX) September 24, 2022
Can he play receiver too?
Iowa’s secondary has been the biggest x-factor in games. Outside of 1 bad drive, the Hawkeyes have held teams out of the end zone through the air. Hopefully, that follows into the 2nd half of the season.
Kirk Ferentz is a damn good coach. Good coaches have to understand that the most important thing is winning. Everyone on that roster is family and should be treated by Ferentz as if they were his own son.
Too bad his actual son is the biggest problem to the offensive success.
Brian Ferentz’s offense ranks:
- 120th in passing
- 122nd in third-down conversions
- 126th in rushing
- 126th in scoring
- 131st in total offense
Why does 131 stick out worse than a sore thumb? There are only 131 FBS programs in college football. Iowa is dead last.
Any other coordinator would’ve been banned from ever entering Kinnick Stadium again. Instead, Kirk Ferentz is letting his feelings for his son get in the way of his feelings as a coach. And at some point, loyalty doesn’t cut it.
Remember in 2016 when Les Miles was asked to fire Cam Cameron as offensive coordinator and he didn’t? Both were fired 4 games into the year. And while it’s hard to imagine anyone but Kirk calling plays, could this be what pushes Gary Barta into making a change up top?
Final grade: C-
Iowa is a 48-yard field goal away from tying Iowa State and sending the game into overtime. It’s a touchdown away from beating Illinois on the road and being 5-1 on the season. And surprisingly, there are a handful of players who are going to get All-B1G recognition. Some will even get All-America plays.
But there’s no “I” in team. There isn’t one on defense, either. That side of the ball is passing with flying colors. The offense isn’t.
Afterschool offensive tutoring is required for Iowa to pass this season. Even then, that might not be enough to make the grade.