Hawkeye offense shows improvement halfway through season

Iowa’s offense has taken noticeable strides forward since last season and the beginning of 2018.

Indiana+linebacker+Reakwon+Jones+runs+toward+Iowa+quarterback+Nate+Stanley+during+Iowa%27s+game+at+Indiana+at+Memorial+Stadium+in+Bloomington+on+Saturday%2C+Oct.+13%2C+2018.+The+Hawkeyes+beat+the+Hoosiers+42-16.+

Katina Zentz

Indiana linebacker Reakwon Jones runs toward Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley during Iowa's game at Indiana at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. The Hawkeyes beat the Hoosiers 42-16.

Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

When Iowa football has taken the field in October, one thing has been abundantly clear — its passing offense has found a new level since the early season struggles.

The Hawkeyes have put up a combined 90 points over the past two weeks and have been menaces on the road, putting up more than 40 points in each of their past three road contests dating back to last season.

The offense averaged 311.5 yards per game through the first two competitions, then raised that mark to 462 in the last four games, breaking the 400-mark in each of those games.

The increase in damage has correlated nicely with the performance of quarterback Nate Stanley.

He threw only 1 touchdown in his first two games but tossed 10 in his last two contests, 14 in his last four.

“Any good player is going to work through any challenges he has,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It just looked like he was pressing too much, maybe trying to be too perfect … He’s a guy who is a perfectionist, so I think he’s starting to relax a little bit and just enjoy the game a little bit more. We just got to encourage him a little — you’re a college football player for crying out loud, enjoy it a little bit.”

RELATED: Hawkeyes riding Stanley’s hot hand

Stanley isn’t the only one who has shown improvement. The offense — namely the receivers — gained plenty of experience through the course of last season and halfway through this one.

Entering 2017, no wide receiver had recorded a catch for the Black and Gold other than Matt VandeBerg, who is no longer with the team. Tight end Noah Fant only had 9 receptions for 70 yards and a touchdown, and T.J. Hockenson had yet to play a snap.

Now halfway through the season, the Hawkeyes seem to be a cohesive unit capable of cooking up a big play at any moment.

Looking at the playmakers, Iowa’s potential was always there, and after Iowa’s 42-16 beatdown of Indiana in Bloomington, it’s clear the Hawkeyes have grown up.

“Year 2 of the offense, you got to look at what Brandon Smith is good at doing, what I’m good at doing, what Easley is good at doing, Noah Fant, you know they can block and go out and run routes and catch the ball,” wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette said. “It’s just everybody is experienced. It’s Year 2 of the offense. [Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz] knows what he’s got in his hands and what he can dial up.”

RELATED: Balanced Hawkeye offense leads Iowa in dominant win over Indiana

In its last three wins, Iowa has outscored its opponents, 128-61. There hasn’t been any sign of the Hawkeyes playing down to the level of their opponents.

When Iowa gets out to a big lead, it doesn’t let teams crawl back in.

Right now, Iowa has demonstrated its ability to keep its foot on its opponent’s neck, causing problems for opposing defenses.

“We’re trying to be a championship-level football team,” Hockenson said. “I think when you get up on a team, you step on the gas, and that’s what we’re trying to do. Whether or not we’re doing that right now, we’re trying, and we’re not going to change the game plan.”

 

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