Opinion | Iowa football’s offense still has a lot to prove after win over Northwestern

The season-highs the Hawkeyes posted in yards and points are reflections of Northwestern’s poor defense, not Iowa’s progress on offense.


Gabby Drees

Iowa players celebrate after a touchdown during a football game between Iowa and Northwestern at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. Iowa defeated Northwestern, 33-13.

Austin Hanson, Pregame Editor

Iowa football registered season-highs in total points and yards in its 33-13 win over Northwestern Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes gained 398 yards — 220 passing and 178 rushing.

The most impressive part? Iowa’s offense did it all by itself.

The Hawkeyes’ best starting field position was the 50-yard line. Iowa also began one drive at its own 41. 

Iowa might’ve actually played complementary football on Saturday. The Hawkeyes didn’t need any points or field position-changing turnovers from their defense. The lone takeaway Iowa’s defense recorded was an interception strong safety Kaevon Merriweather caught near his own 44-yard line as time expired in the second quarter.

Senior quarterback Spencer Petras went 21-of-30 for 220 yards and a touchdown. He also scored a 1-yard rushing TD in the first quarter. Petras was sacked once on the game and his quarterback rating was 142.6.

Iowa drove the ball into the red zone five times Saturday, coming away with three field goals and two touchdowns. The Hawkeyes scored a third touchdown via a 23-yard end around to sophomore wideout Arland Bruce.

“No question, this was our best offensive performance,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said postgame. “When you can play balanced, it starts up front. We certainly blocked better today, more productively that way, both run and pass. Gave Spencer some protection where he could set his feet a little bit and work through his progression. 

“So, a lot of good things there. And then, if we can run and pass, we’re a better football team doing that as well. It was good to see that. We’ve done some good things along the way, but this was by far the best collective effort we’ve had.”

Like Ferentz said, the Hawkeyes certainly did play their best game of the season on offense against the Wildcats. I liked a lot of what I saw from Iowa. It’ll win the rest of the games on its schedule if its offense plays the remainder of the season like it did Saturday.

Iowa would be 7-1 right now if it scored 33 points in each of its previous seven games. Excluding their 54-10 loss to the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes last week, the Hawkeyes could’ve won all of their games this season with just four scores.

“You know, obviously with our defense — I don’t want to put a number out there — but if we score X amount of points, we’ve got a pretty good chance of winning the game,” Petras said. “So, anytime we can play like we did in the first half, score on every drive, that’s great.”

Whether or not Iowa’s performance on Saturday was a fluke remains to be seen. The Hawkeyes will play three of their last four games of the season against teams with .500 records or better. So, they’ll quickly find out if the offensive success they found against the Wildcats is sustainable.

For now, I think Iowa fans would be smart to hold their horses. I’m not convinced the Hawkeyes’ offense is due for any encore performances over the next few weeks.

Without parsing any words, Northwestern is the worst team in the Big Ten. The Wildcats are now 1-7 overall and 1-4 in Big Ten play. Their lone win of the year came against the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 27. Since then, Northwestern has lost to the likes of Miami (OH), Southern Illinois, and Duke.

Had the Hawkeyes done anything other than blow out the Wildcats, there would’ve been major cause for concern. Before its matchup with Iowa, Northwestern ranked 97th, 112th, 58th, and 81st in total, rush, pass, and scoring defense, respectively. Northwestern’s defense is the worst of any team Iowa has played this year — including Nevada, which currently has the nation’s 76th-ranked defense.

I know Iowa’s offense ranked last in the 131-team FBS before it played Northwestern. And I accept that any progress is better than none at all when it comes to evaluating Iowa. 

Still, I’m not ready to dub the Hawkeyes’ offense fixed. The Hawkeyes are currently 4-4, and their offense will likely determine the outcome of their last four games. If it reverts to its old habits, the Hawkeyes will finish the year 6-6, 5-7, or 4-8. Should the Hawkeyes continue to move the ball offensively, they could end up 7-5 or better.

Purdue’s 43rd-ranked defense will be a solid test for Iowa’s offense. So, next week’s game will go a lot further than this week’s in determining whether or not Iowa’s offense can be serviceable.

For now, I think offensive lineman Connor Colby put it best:

“I mean, we’re still going to take it one game at a time,” Colby said. “I mean, what we did today has no bearing on what we do next week. So, we still have to keep that improvement mentality.”