Opinion | Iowa football’s offense still trending in wrong direction after 7-3 win over South Dakota State

After another poor showing against the Jackrabbits, the Hawkeye offense was subjected to jeering fans within the confines of its home stadium.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras throws the ball during a football game between Iowa and South Dakota State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022. The Hawkeyes defeated the Jackrabbits, 7-3. Petras threw for 109 yards.

Austin Hanson, Pregame Editor

Well, here we go again. After nine months, Iowa’s offense has proven to be in the same place it was during the 2022 Citrus Bowl: the bottom of the barrel.

The Hawkeyes’ offense finished the 2021 season ranked 121st in the nation. And their passing attack wasn’t much better, sitting at 109th.

Through one game in 2022, Iowa seems to be on pace to match those numbers. In a touchdown-less, 7-3 win over South Dakota State, Iowa gained 166 yards on offense. If you don’t count the yardage senior Spencer Petras lost on negative rushing attempts and sacks, Iowa picked up 191 yards.

Petras finished the day 11-of-25 — that’s a 44 percent completion rate for those keeping score at home. The 6-foot-5, 231-pounder from San Rafael, California, ultimately threw for 109 yards and an interception. His quarterback rating was 72.6. The maximum rating a QB can have is 158.3.

Petras’ performance caused a stir at Kinnick and turned Iowa’s aptly named student section, The Hawks’ Nest, into a tree of boo birds.

“I think, you know, when we get stopped on third down and they’re booing, I feel the same way,” Petras said postgame. “I wish we converted the third down. But, you know, I think the key to all that is knowing that I have a job to do, as does every member of the football team on any given play.

“That’s all we focus on. The past is behind, the future does not exist. All that we have is the present moment.”

Even as fans continued to voice their displeasure with Petras, I never once thought backup QB Alex Padilla would enter the game. Something Ferentz said in his weekly press conference on Tuesday afternoon sat with me all week, and gave me enough conviction to safely assume there won’t be any Padilla sightings this season, barring an injury.

“Then, there’s some other spots where it’s pretty much a given that our three linebackers will be the same three guys you saw last year: Riley Moss and Kaevon in the back end,” Ferentz said on Aug. 30. “Pretty safe to say they’ll be playing. LaPorta at tight end and Petras as our quarterback. Those things are set in stone right now.”

Ferentz pairing “set in stone” terminology with Petras struck me. Before, he’d always referred to Petras and Padilla as two neck-and-neck competitors fighting for a starting job.

Ferentz said Tuesday that Petras has “out-performed Alex a little bit at this point.” He added that Petras is further ahead than Padilla and gives the Hawkeyes the best chance to be successful.

The phrasing change from “open competition” to “set in stone” was stark — especially for a quarterback that threw 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions a year ago.

Even after Petras was jeered off the field multiple times on Saturday, Ferentz stuck to his laurels. Padilla never even warmed up his arm, keeping his helmet off and a red backup QB ball cap on. The closest Padilla got to the field was when he caught warm up passes from Petras before Iowa’s offense took the turf.

Postgame, Ferentz didn’t offer the relief at quarterback some fans are seeking.

“I’ve still got a lot of confidence in him,” Ferentz said of Petras. “I think the noise on the outside is probably a lot louder than it is on the inside. I’ve got total confidence. He practices well. He’s a great young guy. We’ll be better. We’ll be better next week.”

Realistically, Iowa’s offense could be a little better next week. The Hawkeyes were missing three starters against South Dakota State on Saturday: wideouts Nico Ragaini and Keagan Johnson and running back Gavin Williams.

Even after Ferentz’s two most recent press conferences, little is known about the trio’s injury situation. Ferentz said Ragaini could miss “at least a couple weeks.”

Williams and Johnson were both pregame scratches. According to The Des Moines Register’s Chad Leistikow, Williams is dealing with an ankle injury.

Leshon Williams, who started in Gavin Williams’ place on Saturday, said he knew he’d be Iowa’s first-team running back this week well in advance of kickoff.

“I knew during practice, probably a couple weeks ago,” Leshon Williams said. “So, I knew ahead of time.”

Johnson’s status is the most puzzling of all the offensive players that didn’t participate in Saturday’s game. The 6-foot-1, 194-pound sophomore missed some of the Hawkeyes’ offseason practices for undisclosed reasons.

Johnson was listed on the Hawkeyes’ depth chart ahead of their 2022 season-opener, but was ultimately scratched before the game. He also missed the 2022 Citrus Bowl with what was dubbed a “non-COVID-19-related illness” by Iowa Athletics.

I hope so,” Ferentz said of Johnson and Williams playing next week. “Every day is an adventure, but I thought Gavin had a realistic chance for this game. I’m not sure about Keagan at this point, but we’ll evaluate again tomorrow and Monday and just kind of see where they’re going, but hopefully we’ll get them back at some juncture.”

Even if Johnson and Williams are back in Iowa’s lineup next week, the 2022 Cy-Hawk game will be a prove-it contest for the Hawkeyes’ offense. By this time next Saturday, we’ll know if Iowa’s performance against South Dakota State was fluke or the start of a season-long pattern.

If the Hawkeyes’ offense can score against a Power Five team like ISU, fans can turn their panic alarms off. If Iowa’s offense underwhelms again, it might be time to get frantic. For now, alarms should be snoozed until further judgment can be made next week.

After all, the Hawkeyes are 1-0 — even though they picked up their first win of the season with one field goal, two safeties, and no touchdowns.