2020 has upped the ante on cynicism in a number of ways.
It’s hard not to be cynical when seeing college football teams around the country play in front of largely empty stadiums as we operate amidst a pandemic. In covering the sport, however tangentially I do so, it’s been easiest for me to ease that point of view by centering on what the players want - to play - and hope it can be done as safely as possible.
Further amping up the negative vibe around the Iowa Hawkeyes (1-2), in particular, are the racial allegations which have surrounded the program and served as an undercurrent to the young season. It’s been easy to let the mind wander, especially as the Hawks have looked as they normally do, and think if this is the beginning of the end. Seeing their star all-purpose receiver, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, get suspended for an OWI & excessive speeding has the narrative around the program barreling towards rock bottom.
All of this is to say, Iowa really needed some positive developments to happen or else it would be very easy to check out on the program.
Questions were answered: Could Brian Ferentz and Spencer Petras find a groove? Could a lead be extended when it didn’t absolutely need to be? Will an offensive touchdown be scored in the second half of a conference game? Who, exactly, is Charlie Jones?
It’s hard to say those questions were not be answered affirmatively. Yes, it all happened against a Michigan State Spartans (1-2) unit who’s been as unpredictable as any in the conference. But it still happened. A 49-7 result does not simply evaporate into thin air.
Ferentz the Younger had Iowa’s offense humming like it was the week prior in the first quarter and extended into the second half, as the touchdown-less streak ended yesterday. Three of the Hawkeyes’ touchdown drives included a play of 20 yards or more. The other two began on the Spartans’ side of the field as a result of Iowa’s newest weapon: Charlie Jones.
When Iowa’s defense went into the lull throughout the second quarter, the Hawkeye defense and special teams stepped up with Jones returning a punt return for a touchdown and Riley Moss taking an interception to the house. Delightful.
The offensive playcalling continued to be as diversified as one might expect in the second half, with multiple big plays sparked by jet sweep action, including two from Jones himself. Tyler Goodson got over 100 yards on just 14 carries. Second teamers saw the field across the board.
It was nice.
Spencer Petras could have been better - everybody could have, technically - as his inability to consistently hit running backs on screen passes might close off that portion of Brian’s playbook but 15/27 for 167 yards is a totally winnable number. If nothing else, Iowa isn’t relying on him to win. There’s room for debate as to whether Kirk and Brian should manage the QB position in that way, but it seems silly to look a gift horse in the mouth.
As the focus turns to a Minnesota Golden Gophers team bouncing back themselves with a 41-14 win over Illinois yesterday, many of these questions will still remain for Iowa. You’re only as good as your most recent result.
Yet it’s nice to see something go well for a team we pour so much emotionally into. In a season so filled with uncertainty, you take the literal wins when you can get them and the Hawks got an utterly delightful one yesterday.