Opinion | Iowa football can redefine its 2022 campaign in November

The Hawkeyes could make a late-season run at a Big Ten West title if their offense continues to improve.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa wide receiver Nico Ragaini (89) carries the ball into the end zone for a touchdown during a football game between Iowa and Purdue at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2022.

Austin Hanson, Pregame Editor

Iowa football appears to be getting hot at just the right time. The Hawkeyes have won their last two games in convincing fashion and shown marked improvement on offense.

The Hawkeyes scored 57 combined points in their 33-13 and 24-3 wins over the Northwestern Wildcats and Purdue Boilermakers, respectively, in the past two weeks. In its previous seven games, Iowa scored 98 total points and averaged 248.6 yards per contest. The Hawkeyes put 398 and 376 yards up against the Wildcats and Boilermakers, respectively.

Northwestern and Purdue’s defenses ranked 94th and 42nd in the nation, respectively, ahead of Week 10 of the college football season. I wasn’t sold on Iowa’s offensive improvement after it beat Northwestern. But the 24 points the Hawkeyes put up against the Boilermakers are nothing to sneeze at — especially considering Iowa has ranked last in the 131-team FBS in total offense for much of the season.

It’s difficult to determine what the difference-maker has been for Iowa’s offense over the last two weeks. The Hawkeyes moved sophomore Connor Colby from right tackle to left guard against Northwestern, bringing senior Jack Plumb into the starting lineup at RT. The change pushed junior Nick DeJong to the second-team offensive line.

Iowa gave up 23 sacks in its first seven games. The Hawkeyes have surrendered four since then. The improved pass protection allowed Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras to throw for a combined 412 yards and three touchdowns against Northwestern and Purdue.

Offensive line changes probably haven’t been the source of Iowa’s recent renaissance. Though, true freshman running back Kaleb Johnson has gained 293 yards on the ground in his last two games.

Johnson has also emerged as the Hawkeyes’ top option at running back. He’s carried the ball 21 more times than sophomores Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams combined. Johnson has outgained the pair by 250 yards over the past two weeks.

“I wish I could tell you it was an easy answer,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said of the source of Iowa’s recent offensive improvement. “We’re not out of the woods. Let me just go on record saying that. You keep looking at things, talking about things. We’re doing it all week long, not just on Saturdays or Sundays.”

It remains to be seen if Colby’s move to left guard will cure Iowa’s offensive woes for the rest of the year. But if the Hawkeyes can sustain the level of production they’ve found recently, they’ll be tough to beat in their remaining three games.

With pedestrian offensive support, Iowa’s defense can help the Hawkeyes get back into Big Ten West title contention. The Hawkeye defense ranks inside the top 10 in the nation in total and scoring defense.

Iowa is currently situated in a four-way tie for second place in the West with Purdue, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. The Hawkeyes now hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Boilermakers in the West standings.

Iowa will play Wisconsin next week at Kinnick Stadium. The week after that, it’ll play Minnesota at Huntington Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Nov. 19.  If Iowa takes down both border teams and caps its season with a win over Nebraska on Black Friday, a path to the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis would take shape.

First-place Illinois was upset by Michigan State Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign. The No. 16 Fighting Illini were near-18-point betting favorites against the Spartans.

Iowa is just one game back of Illinois in the West, but the Illini hold a tiebreaker over the Hawkeyes. Illinois beat Iowa, 9-6, on Oct. 8.

Illinois has matchups with Purdue, Michigan, and Northwestern left on its schedule. If the Hawkeyes win out and the Illini lose two of their last three games, Iowa will win the West.

Granted, winning the West would likely just lead to a rematch with No. 2 Ohio State or No. 5 Michigan. But as recently as last week, it seemed like the Hawkeyes would be fighting for bowl eligibility. Now, they’re a win away from a guaranteed postseason berth.

“We talk all the time about not listening to the noise, that what matters is our preparation and continuing to work and to push things through,” Petras said. “I think this is proof of it … You guys had us dead two weeks ago. We couldn’t do anything right.

“That’s not what football is,” Petras added. “Football is a week-to-week game. If you keep working, and if you do things right and work hard, then good results happen. The last two weeks have been proof of that.”

Iowa suffered its first loss of the season to Iowa State, 10-7, on Sept. 10. Since then, the Hawkeyes have been stressing that Ferentz-coached teams always get better as the season progresses. It appears the Hawkeyes’ may confirm that notion by the end of their 2022 campaign.

Obviously, Iowa still has to play its last three games, and I’m not ready to declare that the Hawkeyes are back from the dead. But the Hawkeyes seemingly have chance to change their fortunes and reshape their 2022 narrative.

“I think we’re maturing a little bit,” Ferentz said. “We were pretty good on defense early and did some really good things on special teams early. Our problems are well-documented. More than well-rehashed, probably. Our only choice was to keep working, as I’ve been saying each and every Saturday and every Tuesday.

“There was no way to predict these last two weeks would come out the way they did, but they did,” Ferentz added. “That’s the result of our guys staying focused, and working on the right things, and believing in each other too.