The Hawks are back baby! The offense is purring, the defense is nasty, and special teams for the most part is clicking on all cylinders!
While only a few of those are true for this season, for one Saturday in October, the Hawkeyes were a complete football team. I don’t know what kind of Hocus Pocus Brian Ferentz was able to whip up but the offense looked more than confident. It probably had a lot to do with Northwesters defense being ranked at or near the bottom of the barrel in most defensive categories, but we as Hawk fans do not have the luxury this year to scoff at offensive competence. Is that in and of itself an indictment on how poor the unit has played up to this point? Sure. We are left to hope that the performance on Saturday signifies growth from the unit and that hopefully they are slowly coming out of the darkness in time for the stretch run.
Here is a look at who’s stock is rising and a shocking Hawkeye who is “falling”.
My god it happened. After last weeks benching against Ohio. St, I never thought this moment would come for Spencer Petras. Regardless of whether or not you think he should be the starter, Spencer played a great game. In one of his best performances as a Hawkeye, Petras’ stat line read 21/30 for 220 yards and (gasp) a touchdown pass! Spencer delivered ball after ball right on the money to his intended targets. In the first half alone he went 14/18. That line is even better considering two of those were dropped, including one for a score, and a throw away. A larger story coming out of the Northwestern win for Spencer was that it appeared as though he was reading the defense in real time for once. His play didn’t appear as scripted on where he was throwing the football. That’s evidenced by eight different Hawkeyes catching passes on Saturday. I also liked that Spencer pulled the ball down and got a little something a few times instead of taking a sack. One of those improvisations resulted in a 17 yard gain to Monte Pottebaum as well. No Northwestern is not good, but hopefully this game can instill some confidence in the Hawkeye signal caller.
Arland Bruce IV
Finally! It took until game number eight but we were all finally reminded of why all of us were so high on Arland coming into the season. Bruce on the day recorded 2 catches for only 19 yards but got 3 touches in the run game and it paid off. Bruce took one of his sweeps 23 yards to the house later in the game. This kid is a playmaker who needs even more touches in the upcoming weeks but just like Spencer, hopefully his confidence was boosted Saturday.
Another Hawkeye receiver who saw their stock rise was Nico Ragaini. The senior had his best game of the year hauling in 4 receptions for 66 yards. This marked only the second time this year a Hawkeye wideout has lead the team in receiving yards, the other was also Nico against Nevada. It was awesome to see Spencer identify Nico on some of the short crossers and then deliver a ball to where Ragaini could showcase his toughness and athletic ability after the catch. Like Bruce, Ragaini’s success (or lack there of) will have a huge influence on how Iowa finishes out the 2022 campaign.
RB1 is officially locked up. The true freshmen may be the Hawkeyes best home run threat within the offense. I continue to be blown away by the ease in which Johnson picks up chunks of yardage. He always appears to be operating at 60% until you realize he is running past everybody and they aren’t catching up. Could he run with a little more forward lean? Maybe. I seem to remember however that Melvin Gordan had a very similar running style and that worked out alright.
Kalebs ability to not chop his feet and immediately get north and south is so refreshing and bolds well for this offense. It’s starting to become evident as well that this kid knows what he’s doing in pass protection. If Johnson can become a legitimate every down back, the Hawkeyes have themselves something special.
Another Saturday sees Laporta lead the Hawks in receptions. Theres not a ton to say at this point about the senior except I would really like to see him haul in touchdowns during the final games of his career. If he can do that and help lead Iowa to a salvaged season against 5 straight West division rivals, I believe his name will finally be able to be mentioned with former Hawkeye greats as being truly elite.
I lumped them together when they were awful and I’ll do the same this first time they found success. This young unit was solid Saturday. They opened plenty of holes for Johnson and Leshon Williams to run through and that subsequently allowed Iowa to hoard time of possession. The Hawkeye’s best 5 at the moment are Richman at LT, Colby LG, Jones C, Stephens RG, and Plumb at RT. Plumb, while he has struggled throughout his career, now has his chance to become a classic Iowa story under Ferentz as a Senior who struggled throughout his career but finally had the light bulb turn on during his final season. Northwestern came in to the game Saturday with a very porous run defense it must be noted, but I am still eager to see if the same success can be replicated next week at Purdue.
It dawned on me that I forgot to mention Moss last week in my ode to Seniors on the defense. Somewhat easy to overlook this season, Moss had himself a game Saturday. Riley on the day had 5 tackles togo along with 2 passes defended as well as a devastating hit on Evan Hull. He hasn’t had the raw numbers he did last year, but Moss has proven his value each and every week for this Hawkeye defense. The next assignment? Stop Charlie Jones.
The heir to Campbells throne at middle linebacker did his best to imitate #31 on Saturday. Higgins had hiss best game as a Hawkeye tallying 12 tackles on the day. If there was any silver lining to Jestin Jacobs injury this year, it’s been the extended run of playing time Higgins has received. The experience should bode well for next years linebacking core.
The Defensive Line
There were too many guys who had great days Saturday so I’m mentioning all of them. For as bad as Northwestern is, running back Evan Hull was still among the conferences leaders in total offense per game. on Saturday, the Wildcat tailback managed only 32 yards on 11 carries while adding just 25 yards on 5 receptions. Thats dominance from a unit that also managed 6 sacks on the day. Joe Evans, LVN, Deontae Craig, Noah Shannon, Ethan Hurkett, and Logan Lee all notched sacks on Wildcat dual threat QB Brendan Sullivan. Coming into the game, Northwestern was 18th in the country in sacks allowed. The fact that Iowa dominated this offensive line in the fashion that it did bodes well for this weekends game in West Lafayette where pressure from the line will be of utmost importance.
This kid week in and week out continues to make us wonder why the heck he wasn’t declared the seasons starter from day one? The true freshman connected on all 4 of his field goal attempts including a career high 54 yarder. I’m going to compare Drew to two past Iowa kickers. First, I think he hits a great ball. His 54 yard boot had beautiful slow rotation across an even access. The ease in which he delivered that slow rotating ball reminded me of Mike Meyers. Hopefully he’s better in the clutch than Meyers but there is evidence of that in my second comparison. As a kicker, people think you are suppose to remain a robot throughout the entirety of the game never letting your emotions get to high or too low. However, the kickers who have the ability celebrate their triumphs as Stevens did after his 54 yarder often end up being elite. Stevens celebration of fist pumps at the logo reminded me of my all-time favorite Hawkeye Nate Kaeding. Nate toed that line of being super excitable yet cold as ice in the clutch. If that is what coach Woods has in Stevens for the next four years, Iowa may have an all timer on their hands.
It’s blasphemy on my part to throw a fellow punter into the stock down category but Tory had another weird day. My theory behind his shanked 13 yard punt in the first half is that he was so out of whack from not always having to go out on the field. So yes, I suppose we can blame the offense for something else then. In all seriousness though, Iowa will need the Tory Taylor from the beginning of the year to show up down the stretch as every game from here on out should promise to be close.