116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Kirk Ferentz has been clear about his approach to the start of the season. The first seven games were like a mini-season.
“We have a seven-week block,” Ferentz said on Oct. 12.
Now after what defensive coordinator Phil Parker described as an opportunity to “re-evaluate and actually see how we’ve been doing up to this point,” the second mini-season will start Saturday at Wisconsin.
Here’s how Iowa shapes up as that second schedule block begins:
Positives: Quarterback Spencer Petras has shown some promise. Before a nightmarish Purdue game, the junior had nine touchdowns and just two interceptions.
The Hawkeyes have taken advantage of the many opportunities the defense has gifted them, scoring 68 points off the defense’s 20 takeaways.
Center Tyler Linderbaum has been one of the best offensive linemen in the country, anchoring a group that is otherwise inexperienced.
Negatives: The running game has not been what someone would expect for a top-10 Iowa team. Despite likely having a future NFL running back in Tyler Goodson, the Hawkeyes have averaged just 3.1 yards per carry.
While Petras has shown at times why Iowa’s coaching staff is so bullish on him, the last two games were far from ideal. The Penn State and Purdue stretch was the first time Petras threw interceptions in back-to-back games. He had a career-high four interceptions against the Boilermakers.
Iowa’s ability to score when not given prime opportunities from the defense and special teams has not been consistent. More than a third of the Hawkeyes’ points have come off turnovers.
Bottom line: Iowa’s offense has done enough for the Hawkeyes to be 6-1 and in the top 10, but there are plenty of areas for the unit to improve.
Positives: Any talk of Iowa’s defense through the first seven games has to start with the turnovers. Iowa’s Power Five-best 20 turnovers forced have been instrumental in the team’s 6-1 start.
The defense benched the starting quarterbacks in five of the first six games, either because of poor performance or an injury.
Iowa’s defense has allowed 14.6 points per game, second in the Big Ten to Michigan, and 2.7 rushing yards per carry.
Linebacker Jack Campbell has seemed to be an omnipresent force defensively, recording at least six tackles in six of Iowa’s seven games.
A young defensive line has found contributions from underclassmen like Lukas Van Ness and Deontae Craig.
Negatives: Iowa’s defense showed a few flaws against Purdue.
Purdue wide receiver David Bell’s explosion for 240 yards prompts questions about Iowa’s ability to shut down star wide receivers without cornerback Riley Moss healthy. Bell burned Matt Hankins, Iowa’s top available cornerback, several times.
While Iowa has often rushed opposing quarterbacks’ throws, it hasn’t necessarily racked up a ton of sacks. The Hawkeyes are in a five-way tie for seventh in the Big Ten in sacks. Only Nebraska, Purdue and Indiana have forced fewer sacks.
Bottom line: Iowa’s unflappable defense flapped a few times against Purdue, but overall, the unit has been outstanding. It’s hard not to win games with 20 turnovers forced in seven games.
Positives: The better question might be what hasn’t gone well for Iowa’s special teams unit through the first seven games.
Kicker Caleb Shudak has missed just two field goals this season, one of which was on a bad snap.
Tory Taylor has been one of the better punters in the Big Ten, with the help of Terry Roberts and Ivory Kelly-Martin, who have shown a knack for downing balls within the 5-yard-line.
It’s a point of pride for Roberts and Kelly-Martin.
“Don’t you dare take me off the punt team,” Roberts told special teams coordinator LeVar Woods in a game when he was playing more on defense.
Charlie Jones has provided some exciting returns, ranking first in the Big Ten in punt-return yardage and second in kickoff-return yardage.
Negatives: Woods said during the bye week he thought Iowa missed some opportunities on kickoff returns this season.
“Maybe we could have scored or could have helped our football team even more,” Woods said.
Also, as great as Taylor has been, his production has tapered. He had at least one 55-plus-yard punt in his first four games, including a 69-yard bomb against Iowa State. His longest punt in any of the last three games was 53 yards, and he hasn’t averaged 45-plus yards per punt in a game since the Sept. 18 Kent State game.
Bottom line: Aside from the Purdue game, Iowa’s special teams unit has been about as good as anyone could ask for. To quote Taylor’s Raygun shirt, “Punting is winning.”
Oct. 31: at Wisconsin
Nov. 6: at Northwestern
Nov. 13: vs. Minnesota
Nov. 20: vs. Illinois
Nov. 26: at Nebraska
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