Is this really as good as the Iowa offense can get?
Perhaps you read that headline as sarcastic.
I wouldn’t blame you if you did. There’s a “sky is falling” narrative in Iowa never before seen surrounding a college football team on a 10-game winning streak in which it averages 32.9 points and allows 12.7.
The St. Louis Cardinals won their 15th game in a row Saturday. I didn’t see anyone complaining about the way they’re doing it. But baseball plays every day. You don’t get a week to ruminate over every overthrow or bad play-call.
Truth is, if you look honestly at that 24-14 win over Colorado State, it’s some of the best football the Iowa offense has played in 2021.
Maybe that isn’t saying much, but the target of the most scrutiny, Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras, connected on some beautiful passes — and big plays.
“We’ve got a hungry group of guys that are really practicing well and working hard,” Petras said. “I have no doubt we’ll keep working hard and the results are a byproduct. They’ll show up.”
Up until Saturday, most of the offensive electricity had been provided by Tyler Goodson, with touchdown runs of 56, 46 and 35 yards this season.
But the run game got stuffed by the Rams — by design. They wanted to make Petras and the passing game beat them.
“They showed up in a lot of stuff we weren’t necessarily prepared for — just some wrinkles,” Petras said. “They bring a lot of pressure, and that’s difficult to run the ball against.”
So Iowa had to air it out — and several good things happened, believe it or not.
Yes, there was a terrible red-zone interception — but that was Petras’ first of the season. A bad decision to be sure, but not one to dwell on given the outcome.
“Our goal each and every week is to win the game, first and foremost,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Every coach says that, but these Hawkeyes are one of the few that are 4 for 4.
“A little adversity, but we fought through it,” Petras said. “That’s what good teams do.”
In the previous 3 wins, the Hawkeyes haven’t needed the “explosive plays,” as Petras called them after the game, from the offense — although that still feels like it’s taking Goodson’s efforts for granted.
The defense has been in the spotlight, as it is again after Jack Campbell’s key fumble recovery. But the offense had its highlights:
- There was Keagan Johnson making his first start and snaring his first 2 catches — a 43-yard touchdown and a 49-yard reception. “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.”
- There was a wide-open Sam LaPorta on what he called a “trickeration” screen pass fake for 27 yards that gave Iowa the lead for good. “It’s kind of a timing thing,” LaPorta said. “You feel the timer in your head and you see him trigger and kind of slip up the seam and, like I said, I was wide open. Can’t get any better than that.” And when you’re that alone? “Don’t drop it!”
- There was a winding Nico Ragaini running under a ball for a 34-yard over-the-shoulder gain that FS1’s Tim Brando said looked “like Willie Mays.” “I got hit on that. I didn’t really see the catch, but I heard it was pretty incredible,” Petras said. “That’s the thing — trust those guys and let them make plays for you.”
Even the Tyrone Tracy “Statue of Liberty” reverse TD run a play after the fumble recovery is worthy of acclaim. Iowa doesn’t always get creative in those situations, and as a result sometimes ends up settling for field goals.
“One of our goals offensively is to have over five explosive plays a game,” Petras said. “We have yet to reach that this year. We’ve been close. We reached it today, so that’s good.”
They did it when they had to Saturday. With a road trip to a Maryland team just outside the Top 25 and new No. 4 Penn State coming to Kinnick after that, there’s no doubt that more will be needed.
“If they’re there we’ve got to hit them,” Petras said. “Those are huge plays in a game.”