Iowa football notebook: Hawkeyes look to get rushing attack going

The Wildcats have the bottom-ranked rushing defense in the Big Ten.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa running back Tyler Goodson finds space to run during a football game between No. 9 Iowa and Wisconsin at Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. The Badgers held Goodson to 27 yards on 13 carries. The Badgers defeated the Hawkeyes 27-7.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

A message that Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz delivered to the Hawkeyes this week is sticking with starting quarterback Spencer Petras.

In back-to-back losses to Michigan and Penn State in the middle of the 2019 season, Iowa scored a combined 15 points. Ferentz brought that up to his team in the days following Iowa’s 27-7 loss to Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes’ second-straight defeat after losing to Purdue, 24-7, a game prior.

Petras was backing up Nate Stanley during that 2019 season, but feels the point still carries over.

“You look back to the end of that season, we put up 49 points against USC [in the Holiday Bowl] in a game that everyone thought we were going to get steamrolled in,” Petras said on Tuesday. “It’s just about sticking with it.”

No. 19 Iowa’s (6-2 overall, 3-2 Big Ten) offense could be in line to show growth on the ground this week against Northwestern (3-5, 1-4). The Wildcats, who have won the Big Ten West in two of the last three years, feature the bottom-ranked rush defense in the conference.

“Especially against a team like Northwestern, whose defense looks a lot like ours does — the defense we go up against in practice and spring ball — being able to tell which runs are going to be good leverage-wise is not going to be difficult,” Petras said. “It’s just about execution.”

The Hawkeyes usually have a stout rushing attack under Ferentz, but have struggled on the ground of late. Behind a young, banged-up offensive line, Iowa is ranked 117th out of 130 FBS teams with 105 rushing yards per game. Iowa’s 2.88 yards per carry ranks 123rd.

Iowa was held to 24 rushing yards last week against Wisconsin.

But this could be the week to get All-Big Ten running back Tyler Goodson going and allow the offense to get back on track.

“You have to run the ball effectively, and when you need to or really want to, it sure helps,” Ferentz said. “That’s always a goal for us, and we’ll continue to work hard on that.”

“A little adversity doesn’t hurt anyone,” center Tyler Linderbaum added. “… Things are going to start clicking. We’re in a lull right now. I have the utmost confidence in our coaching staff and players that we’re going to push through this and be totally fine.”

Injury update

Running back Ivory Kelly-Martin is out and cornerbacks Riley Moss and Terry Roberts are doubtful to play this weekend against Northwestern, Ferentz said on Tuesday.

Ivory Kelly-Martin, who has 190 rushing yards this season (4.3 yards per carry) as Iowa’s No. 2 option in the backfield, but has been plagued with fumbling issues throughout the season. The fifth-year senior is working through a “couple of issues with his feet,” Ferentz said, and will be too banged-up to play.

Redshirt freshman Gavin Williams is the new No. 2 running back on the depth chart.

Moss, Iowa’s leader with four interceptions this season, is expected to miss his third-straight game after suffering an injury during Iowa’s win over Penn State on Oct. 9. Roberts started at cornerback in Moss’s place against Purdue. The junior was going to start again opposite Matt Hankins last week, but suffered an injury in practice before the Wisconsin game.

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Ferentz said he hopes both Moss and Roberts will be available next week against Minnesota.

Jermari Harris will start for the second week in a row.

“He’s our fourth corner, and that’s how he came out of camp,” Ferentz said. “I think he did a good job [against Wisconsin]. You always worry about a new guy being too anxious or too jumpy out there, but I think he handled the situation pretty well.”

In other injury news, Petras said he is “fine” after landing on his shoulder late in Iowa’s loss over the weekend. Defensive end Deontae Craig is also back on the two-deep depth chart.

Petras praises Tracy Jr.

Iowa wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. entered the 2021 season thinking he’d be the Hawkeyes’ top threat in the passing game this year.

So far, things haven’t gone along with that plan.

The redshirt junior said during spring practice that he envisioned a 1,000-yard receiving season after a downfall in production last year. Tracy posted only 154 yards in eight games last season after posting 589 as a redshirt freshman. With Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette off to the NFL, Tracy’s name went to the top of the depth chart.

But his production hasn’t reflected that. Through eight games this season, Tracy has caught 13 passes for 89 yards (ranking sixth on the team) and one touchdown.

The Tracy family is taking notice.

Kenny Tracy, Tyrone’s brother and a running back at Miami (Ohio), posted a tweet ripping Iowa’s usage of the 5-foot-11, 201-pound wide receiver.

“The opportunities aren’t even there,” part of the tweet said. “… Tell them they can’t play for you so they can find somewhere that’s best for them that will use them how they should.”

Iowa’s offensive players said that Tracy has handled the lack of production well and is keeping a positive attitude.

“His energy and that leadership in that room is incredible,” Petras said. ‘It still is. Out there today, he’s a vocal one, pushing receivers and pushing our offense to be the best we can. A guy like that could easily be frustrated and taken away from the team, just because we haven’t gotten him the ball enough. But he’s not. He’s the opposite. He’s helping our team all the time and making us better. I’m so happy he’s on our team.”