Opinion | Underwhelming offensive performances define Iowa football’s 2022 campaign

The Hawkeyes’ lackluster offense kept them from reaching their full potential this season.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz talks to referees nearby during a football game between Iowa and Nebraska at Kinnick Stadium on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022. The Huskers defeated the Hawkeyes, 24-17.

Austin Hanson, Pregame Editor

Winning in improbable fashion isn’t a sustainable route to a championship of any kind — no matter the sport. The 2022 Iowa football team proved that.

The Hawkeyes were fun to watch weekly. Five of Iowa’s 12 regular season games were decided by one score. Iowa often found ways to win games with big plays on defense and special teams. The Hawkeyes weren’t just forcing turnovers or changing field position either — they were scoring points via pick sixes, fumble returns, and punt blocks.

But the Hawkeyes’ unstable style caught up to them Friday afternoon. With no defensive or special teams scores, Iowa fell to Nebraska, 24-17, at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes dropped to 7-5 overall and 5-4 in Big Ten Conference play.

The Hawkeyes played a two-phase game for much of the regular season. Iowa will likely finish close to last in the 131-team FBS in a number of key categories like total, scoring, rushing, and passing offense.

On the flip side, Iowa is likely to wrap up the 2022 season in the top 25 in defensive touchdowns and total and scoring defense. Punter Tory Taylor and kicker Drew Stevens are on pace to be ranked inside the top 25 nationally in total punting and field goal percentage, respectively, come January.

During the Hawkeyes’ four-game winning streak, I thought Iowa had solved an impossible riddle and figured out how to win matchups without much offense.

Iowa was playing with fire all season, and it ended up getting burned. The Hawkeyes lost control of the Big Ten West Division with their loss to Cornhuskers Friday. Coming into the contest, Iowa was a win away from a second consecutive appearance in the Big Ten Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Iowa’s division title hopes now lie in the hands of Northwestern and Indiana. To make it back to Indianapolis, the Hawkeyes need Northwestern and Indiana to beat Illinois and Purdue, respectively, on Saturday.

The Fighting Illini and Boilermakers are both double-digit betting favorites tomorrow, per DraftKings Sportsbook. So, Iowa is unlikely to make a return trip to the Hoosier State next weekend.

“Yeah, it’s tough,” Iowa tight end Luke Lachey said of the Hawkeyes’ dashed title hopes on Friday. “I mean, it’s just hard for us. Obviously, that was our goal — to win the game and make it there. That was one of our goals at the beginning of the season. We fell short. Now, we just gotta recompress and just look forward to the next game.”

I still have to give the Hawkeyes credit where it’s due. Fans and pundits alike — myself included — were ready to write them off after they dropped to 3-4 overall with a loss to No. 2 Ohio State on Oct. 22.

Iowa has since gone 4-1 and qualified for a bowl with marginal improvement — if any — from its offense. Not many thought Iowa would be bowl eligible five weeks ago. Now, they’re at least in position to play somewhere around New Year’s Day — whether it be in the Duke’s Mayo, Pinstripe, or Music City Bowl.

“They’re a great group of guys,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said of his team postgame. “They’re resilient. They stay positive. They really care about each other. That happened a lot today. It’s evident in little things you see and certainly evident in the locker room — older guys with younger guys. Just really proud of the guys. They’re a great group to be associated with.”

Without the circumstantial framework of the season, however, it’s difficult to not think about how good the Hawkeyes could’ve been with an average offense. If Iowa ranked in the middle of the country in total offense — that’s 65th, for those keeping score at home — the Hawkeyes would probably be sniffing 10 wins right now instead of seven.

Pittsburgh — which had the nation’s 65th-ranked offense as of Week 12 — averaged 21.6 points per game, not counting defensive or special teams scores. Had the Hawkeyes dropped 22 in each of their games this season, they’d be 9-3.

A two-game difference in the loss column doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the difference between a potential Rose or other New Year’s Six Bowl berth and the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. I’d like to see Ferentz get a gatorade cooler full of mayo dumped on him as much as the next guy. But as comical and great for charity as that would be, I know bigger bowls are always more fun for teams to play in, fans to watch, and reporters to cover.

Ferentz said Friday that he hasn’t begun to evaluate the 2022 season as a whole yet. He added he probably won’t do so for a few more weeks.

“That’s something I’ll do down the road,” Ferentz said. “Maybe we can have more conversation next time we’re together. My thought right now is just about today’s game. Mostly how our seniors feel.”

Ferentz probably won’t start breaking down the 2022 season until after his team has played its bowl game. When he does start to ruminate on this year, it’ll be difficult for him to overlook the Hawkeyes’ offensive shortcomings.

I’m not saying Ferentz will make a groundbreaking discovery or have an epiphany, but he’ll surely have to recognize that things will have to be different on offense next season if Iowa wants to compete at a high level.