By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – One way to upset some Hawkeye fans is to say, or even hint, that the Iowa football team’s offense is improving.
Because that would suggest that Brian Ferentz is doing better as the offensive coordinator, and that Spencer Petras is doing better at playing quarterback.
Some fans just don’t want to hear it because they’re tired of watching the defense and special teams bail out the sputtering offense, with Saturday’s 27-10 victory over Rutgers in the Big Ten opener the latest example as the defense scored two of Iowa’s three touchdowns in Piscataway, New Jersey.
But hear me out anyway.
Saturday’s victory, which improved Iowa’s record to 3-1 overall, was hardly a coming out party for the Iowa offense, which only produced 274 yards and only had one receiver catch a pass, and that was to Arland Bruce for just five yards.
But it also wasn’t a disaster, either, especially compared to the first two games against South Dakota State and Iowa State when Iowa scored just one touchdown and struggled just to complete a pass.
Iowa will face its biggest test of the season by far this coming Saturday when fourth-ranked Michigan comes to Kinnick Stadium for the first time since 2016 when Iowa defeated the then second-ranked Wolverines 14-13 on a last-second field by freshman Keith Duncan.
It’ll probably take a similar score for Iowa to prevail on Saturday because it would be silly to suggest that the Iowa offense will suddenly catch fire.
The biggest concern would be a repeat of the 2021 Big Ten championship game when the Iowa offense performed woefully, causing the Iowa defense eventually to unravel in a 42-3 beatdown.
The Iowa defense was burned on a couple trick plays early in the Big Ten championship, but for the most part, it held its own until fatigue became a factor in the second half.
So, again, the concerns on offense shouldn’t be ignored because they are a problem.
Some have found great humor in poking fun at the Iowa offense and they’re not about to stop just because the offense scored two touchdowns against Rutgers and three against Nevada the week before.
To each his own, but it’s also fair to say that the Iowa offense has taken some baby steps in the past two games because it has, especially on the ground where Iowa has combined to rush for 291 yards after having gained just 115 yards combined in the first two games.
Iowa still is ranked last amongst 131 FBS teams in total offense, but the numbers are improving, thanks partly to the running game showing some life.
True freshman running back Kaleb Johnson has shown that he deserves to play, and he’s playing as part of a three-back rotation with sophomores Leshon Williams and Gavin Williams (no relation).
Senior tight end Sam LaPorta finally got loose for some yards after the catch in Saturday’s win as he had four receptions for 77 yards against Rutgers.
The offensive line, which struggled in all phases in the first two games, looked much better at the point of attack against what was supposed to be a pretty good Rutgers defense.
There were running lanes throughout the game because the offensive line had a nice surge at the point of attack.
But perhaps the biggest storyline to emerge from Saturday’s win, besides the defense scoring two touchdowns and Tory Taylor dropping four of his five punts inside the 20, is that Iowa appears to have found its kicker in true freshman Drew Stevens.
He really showed something by making a 51-yard field goal in the fourth quarter against Rutgers. Stevens is now 4-for-4 on field goal attempts, and he handles kickoffs.
So, with an emerging kicker, three reliable running backs, a great tight end, and a pretty good backup tight end in Luke Lachey, and an offensive line that appears to be getting better, there is some hope for the Iowa offense.
That’s all I’m saying.
The receiver position still is a major concern and Petras still hasn’t even passed for 200 yards in a game this season.
The critics and the jokesters aren’t going away yet because the offense still hasn’t shown enough to make them go away.
But the offense has shown enough in the last two games to provide some hope.
And remember, Andy Dufresne, who said that “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things” in the movie classic “The Shawkshank Redemption” eventually made it out of prison.
There is nothing wrong with having hope in the much-maligned Iowa offense, even if it ruins the punchlines.