Iowa finds balance on offense, plays complementary football in victory over Northwestern

Head coach Kirk Ferentz thought the Hawkeyes played their most complete game of the season Saturday.


Gabby Drees

Iowa running back Kaleb Johnson runs with the ball during a football game between Iowa and Northwestern at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. Iowa defeated Northwestern, 33-13.

Chloe Peterson, Sports Editor

The Hawkeyes thought they played complementary football for the first time this season during their 33-13 victory over the Northwestern Wildcats on Saturday. 

Iowa football’s offense had a season-high 398 yards — up from its last-in-the-nation average of 227.3. Iowa’s defense registered a season-high seven sacks and held Northwestern to 13 points. Kicker Drew Stevens anchored the special teams unit, going 4-for-4 on field goal attempts — including a personal-record 54-yard conversion.

“No one expected us to control all three phases the way we did, so credit goes to our players on that,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s just good to get in the win column.” 

Fundamentally, linebacker Jack Campbell said, the Hawkeyes were the same team. 

“We didn’t change anything,” Campbell said. “We didn’t, like, put pixie dust on ourselves. We have been just doing the same thing, week in and week out. Today, we pushed it through. I feel like we played great in all three phases. We played complementary football. So when you do that, you’re gonna get outcomes like that.”

Senior quarterback Spencer Petras, who has started every game this season, was tapped for the starting role again against Northwestern.

Petras went though a QB competition this week after he was benched in favor of backup Alex Padilla at halftime of Iowa’s game against Ohio State on Oct. 22. 

“It’s just life,” Petras said. “I tried my damndest and couldn’t get it done last week. You don’t reset everything and abandon everything that got you to the point you’re at. You just go back to work. So yeah, it felt good to go back out there.”

While both Petras and Padilla took first-team snaps at practice during the week, Petras said he knew by Wednesday that he would be the starter. 

Petras played every offensive snap for the Hawkeyes on Saturday, completing 21-of-30 passes for 220 yards and one touchdown. He also registered his first rushing TD of the season — a 1-yard QB rush in the first quarter.

The senior’s passing game was also the most diverse it’s been all season, as Petras found eight different receivers. Wide receiver Nico Ragaini and tight end Sam LaPorta were Petras’ main targets with 66 and 53 yards, respectively. Tight end Luke Lachey found the end zone during the second quarter, catching Petras’ third touchdown pass of the season.

“I felt like [Spencer] did his job, and I felt like everybody out there did their job today,” LaPorta said. “Starting up front, we ran the ball well, protected well, and that gives him confidence to stand back there and deliver good balls.”

The Hawkeyes switched up their offensive line this week in hopes of getting more consistency in the run game. Ahead of Saturday’s contest, the Hawkeyes were last in the Big Ten with 23 sacks allowed. Iowa averaged 81.4 rushing yards per game in its first seven weeks of the season.

This week, Iowa moved sophomore offensive lineman Connor Colby from right tackle to left guard. Jack Plumb, who has played on the second-team offensive line unit for most of the season, filled in for Colby at right tackle. 

Colby played guard for most of the 2021 season before the Hawkeye coaching staff decided to flex him outside. As Colby moved back inside Saturday, the offensive line became more consistent. Iowa had a season-high 173 rushing yards against Northwestern.

“I felt like we started gaining traction the last four games,” Ferentz said of the offensive line. “Maybe we got a week jump on it this time. If we can stabilize that part of things a little bit, I think it’s going to help us overall.”

Colby said he generally feels most comfortable playing on the interior of the offensive line. He added that his natural position, however, is right guard rather than left. While he was slightly uncomfortable playing on the left on Saturday, he said he’ll get used to the position as the season continues.

“As a unit, we definitely got a lot of confidence,” Colby said of the offensive line’s performance. “Just getting our endpoints and going out there and actually hitting people. That’s definitely a lot of fun.”

The offensive line’s consistency opened up lanes for true freshman running back Kaleb Johnson, who gained 93 yards on the ground, leading all rushers. 

“I just felt like they did their job more to execute,” Johnson said. “They still young, and this is their first year playing. I felt like they did a good job when all I saw was green grass, so I just ran … That’s just the best feeling, because you know how fast you can be, and you just explode, it was good.” 

Johnson started the season as the third-string running back behind Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams, but the Hamilton, Ohio, product now leads the Hawkeyes with 353 rushing yards on the season. 

Despite joining the Hawkeyes in June, Johnson feels like he’s been in Iowa’s running back room for years.

“I don’t feel like a freshman,” Johnson said. “I feel like I’m a junior or sophomore. It’s a very good feeling, knowing the coaches trust me and that I can do my job and know everything.”