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THE MORNING AFTER: MISCHIEF MANAGED

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The #18 Hawkeyes looked like a team on a mission and opened 2021 with a bang

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The obvious difference between the 2020 Iowa Hawkeyes and the 2021 varietal is: it’s gonna happen in front of 70 thousand cheering fans. Otherwise, it would be easy to lift yesterday’s performance and place it into the 2020 highlight reel and see a lot of the same for the #18 Iowa Hawkeyes (1-0, 1-0) from their 34-6 victory over the #17 Indiana Hoosiers (0-1, 0-1).

The offense’s early score came as a bit of a surprise, mainly because it’s the play every Hawk fan groans about: zone stretch to the boundary. Only this time, it was overloaded with tight ends as Luke Lachey and Sam LaPorta sealed the edge and allowed Tyler Goodson to win a 56-yard footrace: Kinnick was jumping.

The party continued as Riley Moss scored on a tipped pass from Michael Penix, Jr. The game was never in doubt and the burrito lift came early. According to our boots on the ground, the seltzers sold out quickly, a sign of the party Saturday became. And what is not to “cheers”? On a day (and weekend) where many ranked teams did not necessarily look the part, the Hawkeyes did.

Iowa made Indiana look like almost every other one of Kirk Ferentz’s Week 1 opponents - thoroughly mediocre.

Two key questions remain for me as we look forward to the #7 Iowa State Cyclones (1-0) and the season writ large:

  • How does the Hawkeyes defense manage a team not so willing to shirk the run game when facing a deficit? and
  • Can Spencer Petras make plays in the fourth quarter of a close game, especially if Iowa is behind?

Looking at Iowa’s future opponents, especially their West counterparts - Illinois, Minnesota, & Wisconsin - they will not so gleefully throw a rushing attack into the garbage bin. Until Michael Penix was replaced, their playcalling split was about 20 runs to 30 passes. The Fighting Illini, for instance, ran the ball about 60% before desperation mode set in and Art Sitkowski threw half of his pass attempts on their final two drives.

Offensively, it is tough to take too much from yesterday’s game - another hallmark of Week 1 performances under Ferentz. The gameflow dictated ball control and Brian Ferentz never really tested the Hoosier defense. Tyler Goodson averaged just 3.5 yards a carry on runs that didn’t go 56 yards. Spencer Petras completed 48% of his passes. There were drops, to be sure, but would his performance really feel that much different if he completed 59%?

To be clear, Petras’ performance today didn’t need to look or feel any better than they looked or felt in 2020. Kirk Ferentz’s style requires no game-changing mistakes from his QB and Petras did that as he has done in Iowa’s final six games of last season.

Yet there will be a time that it does need to be better and the time may be as early as six days from now.

Taking the longer view out and Iowa looked every bit the part many have projected as a Big Ten West challenger. Their secondary is salty. The linebackers are every bit as advertised. The defensive line made some plays. And the offense...well, it just didn’t make any game-changing mistakes. In a division where Petras might not need to outplay any opposing quarterback to win a game, that might be all they need.

In the national landscape, there was an FCS foe taking down a Power 5 opponent and another challenging a top 10 team. Riley Moss scored more first half points than seven of the ten ranked teams who played each other. Oklahoma & Oregon played single-digit contests. So yeah, Iowa’s 34-6 dismantling of a top 25 team looks as good as any other result in the country.

Does it lead to a huge rise up the rankings to set up a top 10 matchup for College Gameday? It’s a fool’s errand we’ll know the answer to soon enough. Ultimately, there are two truths to take going forward: The Hawkeyes enter the three-game break in conference games atop the West standings and...

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