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The Optimist’s Guide to the 2022 Iowa Hawkeyes

Repeat after me: I deserve to be excited

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

Let’s be honest, 2022 hasn’t exactly been a barn-burner of a year up to this point. Whether it’s the revolving door of Covid variants and sub-variants or a freaking war in Europe each week brings something else to fret about. Even as I type this I’m quarantined in my house after my first positive test of the entire pandemic.

However, August is a magical month. Summer is still going strong but we’re beginning to see hints of autumn around the corner, from the occasional mild weather day to the Octoberfest waiting in my fridge. The NFL preseason is underway and there’s only one more Saturday without college football left.

It’s a time for optimism and hope and that extends to the upcoming edition of the Iowa Hawkeyes football team. Fresh off a 10-4 campaign, the Hawks will look to repeat as West division champions, something a team hasn’t done since the 2017 stinkin’ Badgers. Because I tend to be positive before the beginning of the season (in a non-coronavirus way) I present to you three big reasons you should be bullish on the 2022 Iowa Hawkeyes.

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

A Great Defense Gets Better

Iowa’s defense was arguably THE reason Iowa won double digits and made it to the ‘ship last season (we’ll get to the other one later). A fantastic linebacker corps, ball-hawking secondary, and solid line added up to a defense which ranked 13th nationally in both scoring and rushing defense. Despite the loss of key pieces like Jack Koerner, Dane Belton, and Zach VanValkenburg, the rest of the defense remains largely intact.

Iowa returns both both its 2021 leaders in sacks (Joe Evans) and total tackles (Jack Campbell), as well as the reigning B1G Defensive Back of the Year, Riley Moss. While the losses in the secondary sting the members who are left are no slouches either. Moss and Jermari Harris both tallied four INTs each, the former for two scores, and Terry Roberts also performed admirably after Moss suffered an injury against Penn State.

The linebackers remain unchanged from last year with All-American Jack Campbell headlining the group. I mentioned earlier that Campbell led the team in tackles last year. Well, Iowa also returns #2 and #5 in that category with Seth Benson and Jestin Jacobs. In front of the backers, the defensive line also brings back plenty of beef, including three starters and the top sack producers in Evans and Lukas Van Ness.

A mix of seasoned veterans and incoming talent like Aaron Graves and Xavier Nwankpa, defensive coordinator Phil Parker has a deep roster with which to torture offenses once again.

Promising Newcomers on Offense

This may come as a shock to some of you, but Iowa’s offense last year wasn’t, as the kids say, great. At a mere 303.7 yards per game they were second worst in the Big Ten (sucks to be you, Indiana) and this year will be replacing three linemen, two starting caliber running backs, and have to watch two former receivers wear the bizarro black and gold jerseys this year. That all kinda sucks.

But that’s as negative as I’m going to get. No, the offense wasn’t great last year and loses key pieces, but what is left is a solid core with plenty of new talent to step in and make a difference. Tight end Sam LaPorta returns to offer a reliable receiving target after leading the team in such yards last year. It’s clear LaPorta has become the next standout TE to add to Iowa’s reputation for putting talent in the NFL, and with Iowa’s wide receiver position a question mark expect a healthy dose of two tight end sets to get LaPorta and Lachey involved.

Behind Spencer Petras (because it will be Petras, just accept it) Gavin and Leshon Williams will fill the void left by departing starter Tyler Goodson. Both saw significant success in the Citrus Bowl last postseason. Gavin was the star of that show, averaging 6.1 yards on 16 carries. Leshon was a high point in the Kids Day scrimmage last Saturday, scoring twice against the first string defense and showing both shiftiness and strength.

At times last year Goodson tended to get a little to fancy in the backfield rather than heading downhill when the moment was right, leading to too many negative rushing plays. Iowa needs a back with the power to run north to south with a touch of shiftiness to make people miss. Williams may just be that back.

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

What? You were worried about Special Teams?

After the open practice last April, the departure of kicker Caleb Shudak looked like it could loom large in the upcoming season. Aaron Blom and Drew Stevens both had a rough outing when kicking from 40+ yards out. When your style of play strives for close games a reliable kicker is a must. Iowa likely doesn’t beat Nebraska last year without one. However, both Blom and Stevens put many fears to rest after the Kids Day scrimmage, going a perfect combined 15 for 15 with the longest coming from 53 yards. Regardless of which becomes the #1, or if they split time, if Iowa finds itself in more close games, fans should feel confident when one of them lines up for a game winner.

That’s to say nothing of the absolute weapon Iowa returns at punter. We love saying “Punting is winning” but when you have a guy like Tory Taylor pinning opponents deep, putting your defense in as good a position as possible, and increasing the odds your offense gets it back with better field position, that’s how you win with complementary football.

And finally...

15-0 National champions confirmed.