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Hawkeye Football: Midseason Position Grades for the Iowa Offense

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The Hawkeyes are in the top-10 nationally, but how would you grade their offense through seven games of the season?

NCAA Football: Purdue at Iowa
What grade would you give Spencer Petras halfway through the season?
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

It’s week nine of the college football season and while that technically puts us past the midway point, we find ourselves just past the midway point of Iowa’s season as they prepare for their matchup with Wisconsin fresh off a bye. With no game to recap or hand out position grades for, this is the perfect time to hand out some midseason grades to Iowa’s various position groups.

Unfortunately for you all, your guy Bartt is off enjoying some sunshine south of the border this week so you’re stuck with me. That’s likely to make for some inconsistencies between mid-term grades and the aggregate of the prior weekly grades Bartt has been handing out. Such is life.

So without further adieu, here are the midseason position grades for the Iowa Hawkeyes offense from your substitute teacher.

[Inserts VHS tape of Bill Nye the Science Guy and walks out of the room.]


Quarterback

Expectations for the quarterback position were pretty low coming into the season. Spencer Petras was the source of much debate and criticism despite starting his Iowa career 6-2 during the COVID year. As a redshirt sophomore last season, Petras completed just over 57% of his passes with average yards per attempt at a putrid 6.4 yards.

A year later, we’ve seen a lot of the same. Through seven games as a redshirt junior, Petras is completing 59.5% of his passes - an improvement to be sure. But yards per attempt remain incredibly low at 6.7 yards and the touchdown to interception ratio has actually been worse this year than last.

However, that is largely driven by an incredibly bad game (and really, the very bad stuff was reserved for Iowa’s final three possessions) against Purdue where Petras threw four of his six interceptions this season. In the first six games of the year, the California native was completing 61% of his passes while averaging 6.8 yards per attempt with 9 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions.

He has some significant flaws, including major happy feet in the pocket, limited pocket awareness in general and virtually no finesse on short and intermediate passes. Despite those shortcomings, Petras is second all-time at Iowa in winning percentage as a QB in large part because he has not turned the ball over saver for two games. Excluding the loss to Purdue this season and the loss to Northwestern a season ago, Petras has an 8.5:1 touchdown to interception ratio as 64% of his career interceptions came in those two games.

And we’ve seen some very nice touch and excellent ball placement when Iowa has chosen to take deep shots, though that has been a rarity in 2021. Petras has proven to be a game manager with the ability to make plays down the field under the right circumstances. Unfortunately for him, those circumstances haven’t been there terribly often this year.

Midterm Grade: C+

Running Back

Spencer Petras as a game manager who is average to slightly above is perfectly fine for Iowa to be successful provided the Hawkeyes play the kind of defense we’ve grown accustomed to under Phil Parker and Iowa is successful running the ball.

A year ago, that proved true as the Hawkeyes went 6-2 while averaging 171 yards per game on the ground and nearly 32 points per game. Expectations for this year remained high despite losing Mekhi Sargent to the NFL as Iowa returned All-Big Ten running back Tyler Goodson.

Thus far, Goodson has amassed 586 yards and 5 TDs on 136 carries (4.3 YPC) through seven games. That’s not bad, and Goodson has absolutely shown us some serious flashes. But the yards per carry number is down a full yard from 5.3 a season ago. Some of that is no doubt on the offensive line, which we’ll get to, but some of the blame also goes on Goodson who has grown prone to dancing to try and create something out of nothing. He has that ability, but we’ve seen Ivory Kelly-Martin find modest success making one cut and turning that same nothing into 3 yards and a cloud of dust. In Iowa’s offense, that’s perfectly fine most of the time.

Speaking of IKM, he has shown some burst and it’s been great to see him stay healthy thus far (the biggest of knocks on the largest of pieces of wood). But he has also had a case of the butterfingers, particularly early in the year.

Midterm Grade: B

Wide Receiver

Iowa’s wide receiver group has been a bit of a mixed bag thus far. We knew there would be a drop off in production as the Hawkeyes lost a pair of receives to the NFL last offseason and that has held true.

The pleasant surprise through seven games has undoubtedly been Buffalo transfer Charlie Jones. Jones was a special teamers a season ago but has grown into one of Iowa’s most dependable targets in the passing game this year. He’s tied for second among receivers with 12 receptions and third in yards at 124, but he leads the group in touchdowns at two. Jones has shown the full route tree and is dynamic with the ball in his hands.

Nico Ragaini has led the group with 17 catches and 234 yards, but has seen his role evolve a bit with the absence of Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith on the outside. Ragaini, who had previously been primarily a slot receiver, is now finding himself in multiple spots on the field and consistency has been an issue.

The same can be said, but magnified, for Tyrone Tracy. Tracy looked the part of a bona fide star while filling in for Brandon Smith in 2019, but has simply been non-existent in the vertical passing game this year. He’s had major drop issues and when he has found himself wide open downfield, Spencer Petras has not found him.

The disappointment of Tracy, and to a lesser extent Ragaini, through seven games has been perhaps overshadowed by the emergence of a pair of true freshmen. Keagan Johnson was touted as a potential star both throughout the recruiting process and his early time on campus. It took longer than many Hawkeye fans had hope, but Johnson burst onto the scene with a 49-yard touchdown catch against Colorado State. He has since proven to be Iowa’s best deep threat by a wide margin and will be vital down the stretch for Petras and the Hawkeyes.

Arland Bruce has been the other true freshman to emerge later in the first half of the season. The former prep running back is in the mold of Tracy and has seemingly started to eat into his receptions. Nine of Bruce’s ten catches this season have come in the last three games, a stretch where Tracy has had just two grabs.

On the whole, this group is hindered by the lack of time afforded Petras to set up the vertical passing game and the offensive coordinator’s limited creativity in finding schemes to open up the run game through early down passing. But they’ve also done little to create separation and widen throwing windows for their QB.

Midterm Grade: B-

Tight End

This one is a bit difficult to grade objectively as Hawkeye fans have been utterly spoiled at the position for years. Sam LaPorta is the next in line to head to the NFL and his production is unquestionable.

Through seven games, LaPorta is Iowa’s leading receiver with 28 receptions (10 more than the next highest pass-catcher), 322 yards (nearly 100 yards more than the next highest pass-catcher) and a team-high two touchdowns. He is clearly Spencer Petras’ favorite target and is often keyed on to a detrimental level. But the real problem this season has been an unusually high number of drops, or perhaps more accurately lack of making tough catches.

Beyond LaPorta, backup Luke Lachey has proven quite solid, but is primarily used as a blocker. He’s got just 4 catches for 57 yards on the season. Iowa has opted to not dip beyond the top two at the position with third-stringer Josiah Miamen seeing his first meaningful action in the loss to Purdue. He finished with one catch for 22 yards with Lachey sidelined.

The Hawkeyes have the talent in the position group to continue the legacy of Tight End University, but we need to see more consistency out of LaPorta on some of those difficult catches he flashed a season ago and some emergence in the depth behind him.

Midterm Grade: B

Offensive Line

Much has been made of Iowa’s offensive struggles so far this season. Fingers have been pointed at the quarterback, the offensive coordinator, the head coach, and on and on. But the building blocks of any offense are an ability to run the ball and create a clean pocket for the quarterback. That starts and ends up front.

So far this season, Iowa’s offensive line has been below average, and that’s putting it politely. While Tyler Goodson is a special back, he’s averaging just 4.3 yards per carry due to some paltry blocking up front.

The Hawkeyes are 128th in the nation and dead last among power 5 programs in tackles for loss allowed. Iowa is giving up an absurd EIGHT tackles for loss through seven games this season. The 56 tackles for loss allowed is a whopping 17 more than the 39 they gave up in the full eight game season in 2020.

That’s not on the quarterback. That’s not on the running back. That’s not on the offensive coordinator. That’s the offensive line getting dominated week in and week out.

Iowa has also given up 18 sacks, 90th in the nation, or almost three per game. That despite the low yards per attempt noted above from Spencer Petras. Put simply, the Iowa offense has been limited in what they can try by what they are not capable of doing: sustaining blocks.

That has largely been driven by poor showings from the new starters at tackle in redshirt freshman Mason Richman and redshirt sophomore Nick DeJong. The middle has been relatively solid since the return of Kyler Schott with Tyler Linderbaum making his case for the Rimington Trophy.

If this group can’t come together and show marked improvement outside those two cogs in the middle, the back half of the season is going to look much more like the Purdue loss than any of the first six games of 2021.

Midterm Grade: C-


Overall, the Iowa offense has left much to be desired to this point. The run game has really stalled out and the passing game has been limited. There is plenty of blame to go around as virtually everyone on the team and the offensive staff shares some role in the struggles to-date.

It’s hard to grant the offense as a whole anything above a C grade through half the year and frankly that’s probably too generous. The redzone offense has been absolutely atrocious and it’s going to start costing Iowa games (you could make the argument the three redzone extended turnovers against Purdue are what cost them that game as three TDs there result in a win).

But it’s also difficult to end up much lower than a C on the whole if you dig into the individual position groups. So for this Hawkeye fan, a C is where we’ll land in the hopes of avoiding recency bias. Let’s get to the part where you roast the sub in the comments.