Opinion | Iowa football is good at winning ugly, and that’s OK

The Hawkeyes have found unconventional ways to pick up victories in 2022, relying on defensive scores and explosive special teams plays.


Grace Smith

Iowa defensive lineman Aaron Graves pressures Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz’ pass during a football game between Iowa and Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. Mertz connected on just 45 percent of his passes. The Hawkeyes, defeated the Badgers, 24-10.

Austin Hanson, Pregame Editor

Iowa football’s 2022 campaign might find an odd place to sit in fans’ minds come January.

Four weeks ago, Iowa was under .500 with the worst offense in the country. The Hawkeye faithful frequently jeered their own team off the field earlier this year.

Now, it’s possible the Hawkeyes might finish the season 8-4 and in the Big Ten Championship Game. After their 24-10 win over the Badgers on Saturday, the Hawkeyes exited Kinnick Stadium with the Heartland Trophy in their hands. Iowa fans celebrated with their team to the tune of Jump Around — a song the Badgers play during their home games at Camp Randall Stadium.

The 2022 Hawkeyes seem to have all the tools to become one of head coach Kirk Ferentz’s trademark zero-to-hero teams that struggle early in the season and get hot at the end of the year when the race for a division title ramps up.

“Really, a good team should be peaking in November,” senior quarterback Spencer Petras said postgame. “You do that by compound interest of months and months of work. It’s been something our teams have done recently, and we have to continue to do it because it pays off. This is when the games really count. Chips are on the line.”

Iowa still doesn’t control its own destiny in the race for a Big Ten West Division title. But an Illinois loss to Michigan next week would give Iowa the opportunity to pave its own path to Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The Hawkeyes’ early season woes have been well-documented. Iowa ranked last in the 131-team FBS in total offense for much of the season. Before its win over Wisconsin Saturday, Iowa was 129th.

Iowa’s offense has, however, played better over the last couple weeks, scoring 81 points in its last three contests. In its first seven, Iowa scored 98. The Hawkeyes have put up 920 yards of offense since Oct. 29, compared to the 1,591 yards of total offense they accrued in Weeks 1-8.

I wouldn’t, however, call Iowa’s offense the source of the Hawkeyes’ late-season resurgence. The Hawkeyes are just finding ways to win games via defensive scores, forced turnovers, and key special teams plays. Even with a well-below average offense, Iowa has done enough to qualify for a bowl game.

As Ferentz teams always have, the 2022 Hawkeyes don’t seem to be concerned about how they win games or style points. Rather, they just want to pick up victories any way they can.

Iowa showcased its uncanny ability to win in flabbergasting fashion on Saturday. The Badgers outgained the Hawkeyes, 227-146, but Iowa still outscored Wisconsin, 24-10. Even if you take away defensive back Cooper DeJean’s pick six, the 17 points Iowa’s offense scored still would’ve been enough to win the game.

Iowa put up 2.1 yards per play against Wisconsin, marking the fourth time this season the Hawkeyes have averaged fewer than 3 yards per offensive snap. In those games, Iowa has gone 2-2. Iowa is the only FBS team to win a game this year averaging fewer than 3 yards per play. Not counting the Hawkeyes, teams that have averaged fewer than 3 yards per play in a single game are 0-22 this season.

During his weekly pregame presser, Wisconsin head coach Jim Leonhard best articulated Iowa’s oddball style.

“I think they’ve accepted who they are and how they have to win,” Leonhard said Tuesday. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence and finding ways to move the football. You know, finding ways to get some points on the board.”

Even as Iowa struggled early in the year, linebacker Jack Campbell and tight end Sam LaPorta insisted the Hawkeyes would get better as the year went on, as all Ferentz teams do. And to their credit, the Hawkeyes have seemed to improve in each of their games this season — excluding their Oct. 22 matchup with the Buckeyes.

“Like I mentioned last week, I feel like we have our best football to play, and I still believe that,” LaPorta said. “A few weeks ago, it just wasn’t showing yet, and I think it is starting to turn around a little bit. But we have to keep progressing.”

After Iowa’s loss to Ohio State in Columbus, Ferentz said his team was capable of making a run at the end of the season. And to this point, he’s been right. The Hawkeyes haven’t lost a game since the trip to Columbus.

“That part’s easy,” Ferentz said on Oct. 22. “I not only think it’s possible, I believe it is possible. I believe it’s gonna happen. But it’s up to us to make it happen … That’s our job, that’s our goal, is get yourself in a position where you can go out and be successful.”