Opinion | Iowa football faces an uphill climb to bowl eligibility

If the Hawkeyes lose their first post-bye week game to Ohio State on Oct. 22, they’ll be 3-4 with five games left on their regular season schedule.


Grace Smith

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz walks out of a timeout huddle during a football game between Iowa and Illinois at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill., on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022. The Fighting Illini defeated the Hawkeyes, 9-6.

Austin Hanson, Pregame Editor

Champaign, Ill. — Iowa football is at a crossroads. The Hawkeyes are 3-3 through the first six games of the season with a bye on tap next week.

The Hawkeyes have suggested they’ll break their 2022 campaign into two miniature seasons — one six-gamer pre-bye and another post-bye. Based on that logic, Iowa heads into the second half of the season in the same place it was before its season-opener against South Dakota State on Sept. 3.

Iowa is .500 and questions about its offense are pervasive. The only difference between Week 1 and Week 6 Iowa is their records — 0-0 versus 3-3.

With each passing week this season, I’ve thought more about all the times my dad has told me, “you can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.”

It’s good a line — though I don’t think it’s one the Hawkeyes have heard recently.

In its 9-6 loss to Illinois Saturday, Iowa trudged the same offense it has all year onto the field. Unsurprisingly, the Hawkeyes saw results similar to those they posted in their first five games.

Iowa gained 222 yards and scored six points. The Hawkeyes started two drives inside the Illinois 40-yard line at Memorial Stadium. On those drives, Iowa netted three points and -10 yards.

“It just sucks,” senior quarterback Spencer Petras said of his disappointment with Iowa’s offensive performance. “It just sucks putting up six points. I feel like a lot of it is just self-inflicted. You know, it starts with me. But as a unit, we have to be better. We just can’t keep doing this. So, it just sucks.”

The Hawkeyes have gained 238.7 yards per game this season. They’ve scored six touchdowns in seven contests this year.

“It’s very frustrating, but it’s all stuff that’s correctable,” sophomore running back Leshon Williams said. “So, we really just gotta look at it in a positive way. Like I said, the bye week’s coming up. We can’t get down. We still got another half of the season left. We really just gotta look at the film and make sure we fix the makeable plays.”

Iowa’s points per game average is 14.6. The Hawkeyes have been putting about 11 points on the board per contest, excluding defensive scores.

Iowa’s offense has scored more than 14 points in a single game once this season. The Hawkeyes’ gained 337 yards and amassed 27 points in a shutout win over Nevada on Sept. 3.

Iowa has scored seven points or fewer in three of its last six games.

“We are who we are right now,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said Saturday. “We can’t change dramatically, but hopefully we can find more ways to be effective. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand that we need to score more points.”

Despite overwhelming evidence, the Hawkeyes have refused to adapt offensively. Kirk Ferentz expressed his commitment to both offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and starting quarterback Spencer Petras after Saturday’s game.

With no changes on the way, there’s no reason to think Iowa’s offense will get better. Before the season, I wrote that I didn’t expect the Hawkeyes to get better on offense because their personnel is largely the same. So far, I’ve been proven right.

Would a change at offensive coordinator or quarterback provide the Hawkeyes with a jolt of energy? I’m not sure. I don’t think we’ll find out this season.

I’ve argued Iowa should make a change at quarterback just for the sake of shaking things up. A switch at offensive coordinator or quarterback can’t make the Hawkeyes any worse than they are right now. The Hawkeyes ranked last in the FBS in total offense in four of the first five weeks of the season. Iowa is currently tied with Wisconsin and Northwestern for last place in the Big Ten West.

There’s even compelling evidence that suggests switching things up at QB will make Iowa’s offense better. In the three games backup quarterback Alex Padilla played three or more quarters in last season, Iowa scored 25.6 points per game.

The Hawkeyes already have an uphill battle to bowl eligibility in front of them. Iowa will play No. 3 Ohio State at Ohio Stadium in Columbus after its bye week.

If the Hawkeyes lose that game, they’ll be 3-4 on the year with five games left on their schedule. All four of Iowa’s last five regular season opponents (Northwestern, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Purdue) average more points per game than Iowa’s 14.6.

If points per game statistics are any indicator, Iowa is on pace to finish the season 3-9. If Kirk Ferentz remains complacent at quarterback and offensive coordinator, he risks bowl ineligibility. The last time the Hawkeyes didn’t make a bowl was 2012, when they went 4-8.

I’m not ready to call for anybody’s jobs yet. It’s not something I find appetizing, and I’d hardly be the first person to do so. I’ll leave the demands to fire athletics staff to Iowa fans. I suspect the calls will only grow louder as the season drags on — especially if the Hawkeyes don’t make a bowl.