116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — When Keagan Johnson lined up on the right flank on second-and-10 early in the second quarter, he hadn’t scored a collegiate touchdown yet.
He didn’t even have a catch before at the collegiate level.
Yet the true freshman’s lack of experience Saturday did not stop him from emerging as a deep threat for quarterback Spencer Petras Saturday with a couple big catches, including a touchdown on that second-and-10 pass.
Johnson had two 40-plus-yard catches on a team that has not had much success earlier in the season throwing deep.
Despite the lack of in-game results in the first three weeks, Ferentz said Johnson has “really impressed us since he’s gotten here” out of Bellevue, Neb.
In two of Iowa’s first three games, Petras didn’t have a completion for more than 30 yards, let alone more than 40.
Already, Johnson, with his two big plays, has more 40-plus-yard receptions than any other receiver.
He was quick to deflect credit, though.
Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and wide receivers coach Kelton Copeland, Johnson said, “kept my head straight” in the offseason.
“They emphasized me not rushing the process,” Johnson said. “Things will come when they’re supposed to, and I trusted that.”
When things came with that first catch, Johnson said it was a matter of “right place, right time.”
"Credit to Spencer,“ Johnson said. ”That ball couldn’t have been thrown any better.“
Johnson “just caught it and got into the end zone,” as he remembers it.
Petras, on the other hand, said it was “a great play” by Johnson.
While humble about his own performance, Johnson effusively praised fellow freshmen receiver Arland Bruce IV and offensive lineman Connor Colby’s performances.
“Connor is one of the hardest-working dudes I’ve known,” Johnson said. “I also want to talk about Arland too. … He’ll show more in the future. He’s super special. He just has an explosive ability.”
Some of the sudden change for Johnson can be attributed to the team’s depth at wideout. Ferentz said Johnson is one of the “five, six guys in the mix there at that position.”
That depth was on display Saturday. While Johnson was on the receiving end of Petras’ two deepest throws, seven different receivers had at least one catch.
Junior Tyrone Tracy, one of the two top wide receivers on Iowa’s depth chart, had only two targets and one reception Saturday.
While Johnson didn’t have any catches before Saturday, Petras was well aware of what he could do.
“Keagan’s a really talented guy,” Petras said. “We know anytime I get that guy one-on-one, it’s something I can take a look at.”
Johnson sensed that confidence from Petras, too.
“When I came out and saw press, me and Spencer, we kind of know — we have that connection — that I can win those deep balls,” Johnson said.
Iowa tight end Sam LaPorta said it was “awesome” getting to see Johnson make the big plays Saturday.
“To see him out there as a true freshman doing the things that he’s doing, it’s really promising,” LaPorta said. “He’s gonna have a great future for the Hawks.”
LaPorta was especially impressed considering Johnson’s youth.
“I remember when I was out there as a freshman in 2019,” LaPorta said. “It’s kind of a feeling you can’t describe. Bullets are flying past you 24/7.”
Thankfully for the Hawkeyes, Johnson caught a few of those bullets. Now he’s more confident about catching more bullets, too, as Iowa resumes its Big Ten schedule next week.
“It felt like I got my feet wet today,” Johnson said. “The first catch was a big catch, and as I went out there more, you just feel more confident.”
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