116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Iowa’s 27-14 loss to No. 4 Michigan was its biggest loss since last year’s Big Ten title game.
The Hawkeyes spent much of the second half with a 20-point deficit after only giving up 23 points in their first four games combined.
Yet there seemed to be a theme in the postgame news conferences — a sense of growth among the 3-2 Hawkeyes.
“As crazy as it may sound, from where I stood, I thought our guys played hard and I saw some growth in our football team,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Quarterback Spencer Petras echoed that sentiment, saying “we are growing as an offense,” but he’s aware of the offense’s less-than-blissful situation.
“We have to improve faster than we have been if we want to expect to win Big Ten football games,” Petras said.
How much is Iowa’s offense growing?
To Ferentz’s point, there were some signs of growth from the offense.
Iowa’s 5.1 yards per play against Michigan was second to only the win against Nevada — the same defense that gave up 55 points to Incarnate Word and 48 to Air Force.
Petras completed a season-high 68 percent of his passes against the fourth-ranked team in the country.
Iowa’s play-action pass was exceptional against the Wolverines despite the lack of rushing threat.
When Iowa used play action, Petras was 7-for-7 for 90 yards. Outside of the final 75-yard drive when the game already was out of reach, Petras was 10-for-19 for 81 yards outside of play action.
But to Petras’ point, the growth on offense hasn’t been fast enough.
Iowa had been dead-last — 131st out of 131 FBS teams — in total offense. Now, Iowa is 130th out of 131 teams. Winless Colorado State is the only team averaging fewer yards per game.
The Hawkeyes also remain 120th or worse in third-down conversion rate, yards per carry, red-zone offense and points per game.
Iowa’s offensive line, a major question mark going into the season, struggled again in the loss to Michigan.
Iowa averaged only 1.5 yards per carry — a stat bogged down by four Petras sacks for a loss of 31 yards. Most of the Hawkeyes’ rushing yardage came after contact with a defender, per Pro Football Focus.
While Petras statistically had his best performance of the season, the fifth-year senior was certainly not flawless.
His 1-yard pass on fourth-and-2 to Sam LaPorta will count on the stat sheet as a completion. However, the throw was off the mark and in a place where LaPorta couldn’t realistically make the fourth-down conversion.
Three straight throws off the mark in the first quarter killed a 49-yard drive that had gotten into Michigan territory. Iowa didn’t return to Michigan territory until late in the third quarter.
High bar for Iowa’s defense
Iowa’s defense, if coupled with a potent offense, might have stayed competitive with No. 4 Michigan.
But giving up 27 points while not forcing any turnovers usually won’t be enough for Iowa to beat the fourth-ranked team in the country.
Iowa has not allowed 27 or more points and won since its 31-28 win in 2018 against Nebraska. It hasn’t won a game under those circumstances against a ranked foe since 2003, when it pulled off a 30-27 win against then-No. 9 Michigan.
Iowa has experienced two different realities in 2022, depending on what happens in the turnover margin.
When the Hawkeyes win the turnover margin, they have outscored opponents, 54-10. When the turnover margin is tied or in favor of the opponent, Iowa has been outscored, 40-28.
The latter reality hit in Saturday’s loss, and Iowa’s offensive “growth” has not been nearly fast enough to cope with that.