The Iowa Hawkeyes are fresh off appearing in the Big Ten Championship last season but to get back to that game there are hurdles they need to overcome. The schedule ahead is difficult and the West Division has its share of contenders. These are the three questions the Iowa Hawkeyes face this season.
Where is the run game?
Listen, Iowa is always going to be a run-first team. More often than not, Iowa is going to be good on the ground too. That is its bread and butter. But in 2021, the run game was not what the Hawkeyes are used to.
The Hawkeyes averaged 123.8 yards rushing per game last season. By itself that does not sound bad. For an NFL team it would be a recipe for winning football. This is not the NFL. It’s the Big Ten. Iowa’s production on the ground was only good for ninth in the conference and 102nd in the nation. If Iowa is going to grind through this season, the run game has to come along.
Can the defense force turnovers again?
Of course Iowa’s defense is going to force some turnovers, but what it did in 2021 was on another level. The Hawkeyes led college football with 25 interceptions, returned 3 for touchdowns and scored on a fumble recovery.
It is no secret the offense struggled last season. That tells you how much this defense really made up for those struggles. Takeaways and stops were the key in several games, notably against Iowa State and Nebraska. If the offense is not going to greatly improve, the defense will again have to make up for it with short fields, takeaways and forcing punts.
Will Petras show growth?
This is the one Hawkeye fans are chewing over the most. While Spencer Petras takes the brunt of the criticism online, there are several factors that stymied the offense last season. One, which was mentioned above, was the lack of a run game.
This speaks to a lack of creativity and adaptability in the offensive scheme. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz has heard his share of criticism as well, no doubt. Do not expect the scheme to change though. Just look at what an anonymous Big Ten coach had to say about Iowa’s offense.
“They do what they do, they do it well and they do not care if you think they should do it different.”
The truth is Petras does need to improve on progressing through his reads, listening to his internal clock and reacting to pressure. At the same time, the offensive line needs to hold up, especially on the interior. The running backs have to hit their assignments in pass protection and the receivers need to find a rhythm with their quarterback. If that comes together, even marginally better than a year ago, Petras will look like a different player.