Iowa's offense clicks against Purdue. Are the Hawkeyes back in the running for a B1G West title?
Iowa football isn’t back. Let’s start this off by saying even after back-to-back conference wins, the Hawkeyes remain flawed.
There’s no chance of making the College Football Playoff. The margin of error to finish the season ranked is slim to none. And while the defense remains stellar, there’s been a plethora of questions surrounding the offense since Week 1’s 7-3 win over FCS South Dakota State.
But something has clicked internally with the Hawkeyes as of late. That squad that trudged off the field in Columbus, Ohio, following a 54-10 loss to Ohio State is no more. Instead, there’s a new-found spark that has ignited a 2-game win streak.
And, finally, the offense deserves some of the credit.
All 3 touchdowns punched in during a 24-3 win over Purdue were eared. The wind gusted to over 20 mph at Ross-Ade Stadium. It seemed like a day when running the football would be prudent. But Kirk and Brian Ferentz elected to pass.
Lo and behold, Spencer Petras had the answers, throwing for 192 yards and 2 touchdowns. On a bad-weather B1G Saturday that stymied most of the top arms in the league, Petras stood tall and delivered. Four throws connected for over 15 yards and 6 different receivers hauled in passes. Drives didn’t stall, but rather were kicked into high gear, leading to a sight the Hawkeyes faithful haven’t seen much this season.
In previous games, Iowa’s offense had averaged roughly 250 yards. By halftime, the Hawkeyes had totaled 249. They finished with 376.
“No offense to anyone in here,” Petras said postgame. “You guys had us dead two weeks ago, as did the whole outside world, it felt like.”
Since totaling 157 yards and 3 points on offense against the Buckeyes, Iowa has reached a new level of competence. Is it good enough to make the program a B1G contender? No. Is it enough to keep it in the running for back-to-back West Division titles? As of now, why say otherwise?
Last week against Northwestern, Petras threw for 220 yards and a touchdown in a 33-13 win. The offense averaged 7.3 yards per pass, 5.1 yards per run and finished with 398 yards total.
This week, Petras averaged 8.9 yards per pass. Behind the 200-yard rushing performance of Kaleb Johnson — who broke free for a 75-yard touchdown run in the 4th quarter — the Hawkeyes averaged 5.3 yards per carry. They went 2-of-2 in the red zone, 1 TD, 1 FG.
Give credit where credit’s due. Last month, message boards and tweets filled with key phrases such as “fire Brian Ferentz” or “nepotism at its finest.” And sure, Brian Ferentz shouldn’t be considered safe by any means from criticism, and Daddy giving his kids a job is a common theme in life even outside of football.
But Brian Ferentz and the offense have turned the corner. The Hawkeyes have posted back-to-back 300-yard outings for the 1st time since Week 6 of the 2021 season. At that point, Iowa ranked No. 3 in the country and had just picked up a top-5 win over No. 4 Penn State.
Following a win in Happy Valley, Iowa dreamt of a College Football Playoff berth. That won’t happen, but a trip back to Indianapolis isn’t off the table just yet. Walking out the Horseshoe in Columbus, the program seemed to be waving the white flag. Now, they’re 5-4 and 2nd in the B1G West standings.
“There was no way to predict these last two weeks would have come out the way they did,” Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s a result of our guys staying focused and working on the right things. And believing in each other, too.”
With both Illinois and Purdue taking Ls, Wisconsin and Iowa have re-entered division race. Since the firing of Paul Chryst, Jim Leonhard has taken the Badgers from the brink of being bowl ineligible to a 3-1 record under his watch. Meanwhile, the Hawkeyes have scored 57 points in the past 2 games and totaled 769 yards of offense.
The 2 programs are the constant of the B1G West. While neither has won a B1G title in over a decade, the Badgers and Hawkeyes have combined for 8 B1G championship game appearances since 2011. And this Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, 1 of the 2 will have a chance to stay in the thick of the division race.
This version of the offense is serviceable enough to make an 8-4 record a reality. Johnson should remain the lead back to fortify the run game after Saturday’s dominance. So long as Petras limits mistakes, the passing game should have enough oomph to produce red zone trips, and even cash some of them in for touchdowns.
Petras said postgame that football is a week-to-week deal. He’s right. Two weeks ago, Iowa was left for dead, and fans were demanding for Kirk Ferentz to send his son packing. Last week, Iowa won, but the nation shrugged it off since its opponent hadn’t won a game on American soil since October of 2021.
Entering this weekend — a must-win and must-see 2:30 CT kick Saturday on FS1 — the Hawkeyes might be the B1G West favorites. Instead of wilting into the winter months, they’re blooming into a roster with no quit and nothing to lose.