At no point in my life have I ever had anyone say this to me:
‘We don’t need you to be great, we just need you to be average’
However, I am saying to the Iowa offense, ‘you don’t have to be great, you just need to be average’.
On Saturday against Colorado State, I think the Hawks took some steps towards being average.
They attacked downfield in the second half, and it worked. At least four long completions downfield, anther pass interference call on a ball that was right on the month and yet another throw (to Jones) that was an incomplete but also thrown right on the screws, 35+ yards downfield.
This is a piece of the Iowa offense we had yet to see in 2021 and on Saturday, Iowa went to it several times. This will help to ‘decompress’ the offensive zone from the line of scrimmage out to 10 yards into the defense’s territory. It can help make the running game more effective. It just helps, period.
That said, Spencer Petras doesn’t have to become Brad Banks or Drew Tate. He doesn’t have to be to this offense was Tate was to the 2004 Hawkeyes. He just needs to be Nathan Chandler of 2003 or Ohio State’s Craig Krenzel of 2002. In other words, he just needs to be average-ish.
Let’s share some numbers first, then we can talk about it.
You can see that Petras’ QB rating so far is very similar to Chander’s rating in 2003 and similar to Krenzel’s rating in 2003. The yards per attempt for the 2003 C&K is also similar to where Petras is.
OK, why did I chose those other quarterbacks and those years? Because the 2003 Iowa defense was lights out, as was the 2002 and 2003 Ohio State defense. Iowa’s special teams play in 2003 was also fantastic, as was Ohio State’s in 2002 and 2003. Iowa’s Nate Kaeding won the Groza in 2002, and Ohio State’s Mike Nugent won it in 2004, but he was their field goal kicker in 2002 & 2003.
Let’s hone in on Ohio State 2002 for a second. They were also known as the Ohio State Luckeyes, because they did not lay waste to the landscape and played several close games:
Half of their game were one score contests. Five of their eight Big Ten games were one-score affairs and in those five wins, they scored more than 20 points just once. Their passing offense was ranked 92nd in the country (out of 117 D1 teams at that time, there are 130 now). Their total offense was 70th. In other words, their offense was a big ole heaping pile of MEH, barely average, statistically not even average. But their defense was incredible. They were 2nd in scoring defense and 3rd in rushing defense. They had Mike Nugent converting on 25 of 28 field goals and they ranked 13th in the nation in punting. They won the national title.
The 2003 Iowa Hawkeyes finished 10-3. They were 92nd in Total offense and 104th in passing offense. But they were 7th in scoring defense and 8th in total defense. They were 33rd in punting and 13th in punt returns, with Ramon Ochoa fielding punts.
The 2021 Iowa offense still has a ways to go to even get to the mundane levels listed above. They are currently 122nd in total offense and 113th in passing offense. Prior to yesterday, teams had zero reason to fear Iowa attacking them downfield, so they were cavalier, even arrogant, in how they attacked Iowa’s line of scrimmage. CSU played a lot of man coverage and Iowa, finally, tried to exploit that. Iowa had success. Iowa’s running game is essentially dead on arrival right now, unless they continue to attempt to attack downfield. The attempts are important, along with hitting some of those plays, not just for the obvious angle that it can lead to more points, but it can cause a defense to be less aggressive, less cavalier and actually provide space for the running game.
If I am a defensive coordinator going up against Iowa, I still stack the LOS the way that Colorado State, Kent State, Iowa State and Indiana stacked it. I do that until Iowa proves, repeatedly, that it can hurt me with the downfield passing attack.
However, like Ohio State in 2002 and Iowa in 2003, the Iowa defense is also very, very good. Iowa is 3rd in scoring defense, 13th in total defense and 12th in turnover margin. They are 18th in rushing defense and 11th in passing efficiency defense. It’s rare to be great at both rushing defense and passing efficiency, but so far, the Hawkeyes have been just that. They are also not hurting themselves, ranking 9th in fewest penalties per game.
On special teams, I think this might be the best collection of special teams units Iowa has had under Kirk Ferentz, which is saying a lot. They are 26th in net punting (Taylor ranks 13th nationally), 33rd in punt returns (Jones ranks 13th nationally) to go along with Caleb Shudak’s strong leg and thus far accurate kicking.
Iowa has the pieces on defense. They have an elite level defense and they have elite level special teams. The 2002 National Champion Buckeyes and the 10-3, 2003 Iowa Hawkeyes had similar qualities in those two areas. Spencer Petras, and this Iowa offense, they don’t need to be saviors. They just need to keep moving towards being average…because that might be enough to win the Big Ten Championship in 2021.