I made a terrible mistake yesterday.
I watched other college football games after Iowa’s 7-3 victory over the SDSU Jackrabbits. I got to see the way normal offenses operated with functional blocking, competent QB play, and creative playcalling. I saw runs of 10+ yards, quarterbacks with time in the pocket to throw, and teams scoring actual touchdowns. I’m serious, I saw real life touchdowns. But I felt like the younger sibling on my older brother’s birthday, watching him open all of the flashy new toys while I was stuck with the boring hand-me-downs that don’t work half the time and throw screen passes feet above my receiver’s hands.
Before 11:00 yesterday morning I really thought the biggest story in this game would be how Iowa won with a depleted WR corps, as the Hawks would be starting only one scholarship receiver. By halftime, however, the receiver issue looked like only one small drop of paint in the Jackson Pollock painting of ineptitude that is Iowa’s offense. Actually, that’s not an apt comparison. At least a painting is pretty to look at.
Let’s get the good stuff out of the way first, because there most certainly was some good.
Iowa’s D looks as good as advertised
It was no secret that the defense was going to be the rock upon which Iowa’s foundation would be built this year. Even after the loss of three starters, the unit was still expected to function at a very high level. Any doubts that may have existed for this defense vanished not long into the game.
The Iowa defense stymied, stifled, and smothered the Jackrabbits from the jump. Take a look at their drives in the first half alone.
SDSU ended the game with only 120 total yards, averaging 2.1 yards per play. Their best drive was their second of the game in which they gained a massive 26 yards. The Jacks wouldn’t operate on Iowa’s side of the field until their last series of the first half, after returning a Spencer Petras interception to the Hawkeye 38. Outside of that scoring drive, they couldn’t do anything on offense.
New starters like Terry Roberts and Quinn Schulte looked like they’d been starters for years. Both were all over the field, reading plays and making big stops to keep a fired up defense operating at a high level. Big hits like this one must have gotten into the Jackrabbit receivers’ heads, as they dropped plenty of balls on the afternoon.
Terrific read and reaction in coverage from Iowa CB Terry Roberts pic.twitter.com/37DLhmNM4n— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) September 3, 2022
This is all before even mentioning that the defense alone accounted for more than half of Iowa’s points in the game. I can’t remember the last time a defense tallied two safeties in a single game, let alone a single half. Iowa needed something to break the 3-3 stalemate in the second half and the defense just said “screw it, we’ll do it ourselves”. The pure disrespect Jack Campbell had for the running back is also just hilarious.
Give Tory Taylor the game ball
The other bright spot in the game was undoubtedly the Punta’ from Down Unda’. With offensive drives stalling left and right, Tory Taylor was reliably able to pin the Jackrabbits deep in their own territory. Like, Marianas Trench deep. SDSU had five drives begin inside their own ten yard line, and an additional three within their own 20 thanks to Taylor. It became clear very early on that the Jacks were not going anywhere against the Hawkeye D, and Iowa’s offense regularly got the ball back in great field position. Those two safeties the defense enjoyed were a direct result of fantastic punting and coverage by the special teamers. If the offense is going to continue to struggle, and if the defense is to once again carry the team, Taylor will be crucial to whatever success the team enjoys this year.
Meet the new offense, same as the old offense
Now for the not so good stuff. No, make that the downright awful stuff. The Iowa offense in this game was absolutely dreadful. There were genuine concerns coming into this year for the aforementioned receiving group and the inexperience on the offensive line, but after seeing what was on display on Duke Slater Field yesterday...we might be in trouble.
Iowa ended the game with 166 total yards.
One. Hundred. Sixty. Six.
Against an FCS team.
No disrespect intended to SDSU, which is the #3 FCS team in the country for very good reasons. But there are zero reasons a Big Ten team should only have 166 total yards against an FCS opponent. The Jackrabbits continually crashed to the LOS at the mere suggestion of a run and limited Leshon Williams to 72 yards on 24 carries, and a 3.0 average. It looked like they had zero respect for Iowa’s passing game, and honestly they were 100% correct.
The O-line looked the part of a patchwork unit, frequently allowing pressure on passing plays and having some trouble with keys leading to short, or no, rushing gains. I didn’t expect the line to be amazing right out of the gate but that was distressing. That pressure often led to Petras making rushed throws, and more often than not incompletions. Petras has often been criticized for a lack of mobility, and with the O-line as porous as it was today that was a recipe for disaster. SDSU had two sacks and five TFLs, and Spencer’s interception came as a defender was wrapped around his leg. But even without pressure Iowa’s QB1 occasionally made poor reads, poor decisions, and poor throws.
Arland Bruce IV streaks open over the middle. Spencer Petras just completely misses seeing him and instead tries to force it into a fullback. The pressure of failure really has to start seeping in for QB7 now, and that’s when you tighten up and disobey good habits. #Hawkeyes pic.twitter.com/eA5NxCkeH8— Cody Hills (@ByCodyHills) September 3, 2022
Like many, I was calling for Padilla after the first few drives due to his better mobility, but it’s obvious that it’s ride or die with Spencer under center. In year three, Petras is who he is, so all we can really hope for is the offensive line to gel as quickly as possible, the receivers to get healthy soon, and to just hold on tight.
A win is a win is a win, as the saying goes, and that is most certainly true. This morning Iowa is 1-0 on the young season. But like those 7 points yesterday, I just wish we didn’t have to do things the hard way.