No. 5 Iowa: Can defense, special teams keep bailing out underachieving offense?
Turnovers have been a point of emphasis for Iowa in 2021. So far, so good, with 7 takeaways accounting for 37 points.
But taking care of the ball doesn’t just mean holding onto it. Field position is also important, especially under head coach Kirk Ferentz.
“There’s no secret formula, we play defense the way we play it,” Ferentz said. “To me, turnovers are usually the result of someone being where they’re supposed to be; but then sometimes you make an extra effort.”
Against Iowa State, Hawkeyes quarterback Spencer Petras wasn’t spectacular for the second consecutive game — and for the second consecutive game, he didn’t have to be. However, down the road he might have to be better.
Twice on 3rd down in the second half, Petras took sacks he shouldn’t have.
One put Iowa out of field goal range with a 4-point lead, forcing the Hawks to punt. The other appeared to do the same until Caleb Shudak drilled a 51-yarder that would have been good from longer.
Both times, the offense was picked up by the defense or special teams — or both. One was the field goal. The other was a Tory Taylor punt — 1 of 8 that averaged 51.1 yards — that pinned Iowa State at the 5 and led to a 6-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Jack Campbell.
Now, those kinds of offensive miscues might be fine in these early season games, but once Iowa starts playing tougher compet– oh, that’s right, the Hawkeyes just played 2 teams from the Top 25.
Iowa has Kent State and Colorado State next. But that just means the Hawks have a great opportunity in front of them. They’re an undefeated, 5th-ranked team playing 2 squads they’ll be expected to eliminate easily.
Time for a tune-up.
“The best we could be is 2-0,” Petras said. “I am proud of this team so far. We’re 2-0 with two wins against two good football teams, and that’s exciting and something to be proud of today.”
The defense will surely stay sharp, but Petras will have a chance to play up the positives.
One from Saturday: Charlie Jones, on offense and special teams. He only had 2 receptions — no one had more and one went for his first touchdown — and 36 of the 106 yards Petras threw for on 11-for-21 passing.
Jones capped a 71-yard drive with a 26-yard touchdown grab. He also returned 4 punts for 53 yards and 2 kickoffs for 44 yards, with a long of 24 in each. He’s part of what makes the special teams … special.
It’s a start, but the Hawkeyes have to find a way to not just take the ball out of opponents’ hands, but get it in Tyler Goodson’s and Tyrone Tracy Jr.’s as well. You can’t count on 173 yards of offense being enough every game.
Iowa just reached its highest ranking since 2015, and it has done so without asking much of its offense. That will have to change in order to stay there. As dominant as the defense is, Ferentz will tell you it takes a team effort to stay at a championship level.
“It was opportunistic football against an opponent we knew was extremely tough,” Ferentz said. “I am pleased. Everything out there was fought for. It was a toughly contested game. The biggest product was our ability to play clean against a good team and not turning the ball over. It was a full team performance.”
The Hawkeyes offense will probably have to win a game in the fourth quarter this season. Will Petras and company be up to it? These next 2 games should offer some reps without pressure to get prepared.
Because after the next two and a trip to Maryland, it’s likely Penn State under the lights at Kinnick Stadium. The Nittany Lions have a knack for escaping unscathed where others have fallen.
The offense could be the difference. Time to go to work.