116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Kaleb Johnson had expectations to see some game action as a true freshman.
“I thought I would be in like the sixth game, seventh game,” Johnson said. “Probably get into a blowout game or something like that.”
Johnson was in for quite the surprise this week.
The running back from Hamilton, Ohio, had a team-best 103 rushing yards and two touchdowns on seven carries. Johnson also had a seven-yard reception in the second quarter.
The bulk of his yardage came on two plays — a 40-yard touchdown carry in the first quarter and a 55-yard touchdown carry in the fourth quarter.
Johnson tells himself to ‘stay up, stay up’ on first TD
Iowa was in the shotgun with four wide receivers and no tight ends for Johnson’s first touchdown run. It was a personnel grouping Iowa couldn’t afford to do earlier in the season when it had only one scholarship wideout fully available.
Wide receiver Arland Bruce IV went into motion on a swing route behind the quarterback, which drew a Nevada linebacker farther outside.
The offensive line gave him some space to work with, and he split the gap between two defenders with ease.
Then two of Nevada’s best defensive backs — Bentlee Sanders and Isaiah Essissima — tried to take him down.
"I really thought I was going to go down,“ Johnson said.
He told himself to “stay up, stay up,” and he did exactly that. Essissima eventually caught up with him and pushed him out of bounds, but not until Johnson already crossed the goal line.
“Stayed up, scored,” Johnson said.
Johnson saw plenty of ‘green’ on second TD
More than six hours later, Johnson found the end zone again.
This time, it was on a counter to the left side.
Iowa was in the I formation with 21 personnel, meaning two running backs and one tight end. Fullback Monte Pottebaum was offset to the weak side.
The offensive line’s blocking scheme gave Johnson a big hole on the left side. Pottebaum had a key block on 238-pound linebacker Maurice Wilmner.
Johnson saw “green,” and plenty of it. He was untouched on his way to a 55-yard touchdown.
Spencer Petras throws deep
Someone only looking at box scores would notice a significant improvement by quarterback Spencer Petras.
After completing 44 percent of his passes against South Dakota State and 46 percent against Iowa State, he completed 54 percent of passes against Nevada.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
When Petras did miss his receivers, the throws were more often on target than in previous weeks.
He had 12 incompletions Saturday. Eight of them were on target, but either Nevada’s coverage was solid or the receiver couldn’t make the play. Two were in difficult locations for receivers, but not impossible ones.
While the two defensive pass interferences didn’t count as passing attempts for Petras, those throws also were on target and resulted in gains for the offense.
Petras also threw it deep more frequently than against South Dakota State and Iowa State. His longest completion this season was 27 yards going into Saturday night’s seven-hour marathon.
Against Nevada, he had eight passing attempts to receivers of at least 20 yards downfield, including an unofficial throw that was one of the defensive pass interference calls.
Wide receivers Keagan Johnson and Nico Ragaini made their 2022 debuts, giving Petras more options.
Iowa improvements or Nevada weaknesses?
Iowa’s offense looked better in Week 3 at essentially every position group than in Week 1 and Week 2.
The offensive line wasn’t perfect, but it did enough to give the rushing game some big-play opportunities and Petras time to take shots downfield.
There’s a bit of an asterisk to Saturday’s performance, though. Nevada is far from the Hawkeyes’ most menacing 2022 opponent under normal circumstances.
It surrendered 55 points to Incarnate Word last week. The Wolf Pack lost its head coach to Colorado State last year, and he took many players with him via the transfer portal.
Nevada’s week leading up to the trip to Iowa was anything but normal. The team had to move practice to the nearby convention center, Nevada Sports Net reported, because a nearby wildfire led to hazardous air quality conditions. Players had to practice in tennis shoes because of the venue.
Rutgers will be a better barometer of how much progress the offense has made. While the Scarlet Knights have not been nearly as competitive in the Big Ten as Iowa, their level of talent is substantially higher than Nevada’s.