Opinion | Spring game shouldn’t shape fans’ expectations for Iowa football

Incoming Pregame Editor Matt McGowan breaks down the Hawkeyes’ open practice session at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.


Cody Blissett

The Iowa football team huddles during a spring football practice at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, April 22, 2023.

Matt McGowan, Sports Reporter

One of the telltale signs of spring in Iowa City is the sight of yellow trash cans lining the field of Kinnick Stadium. Every April, the Iowa football team gives fans a chance to watch practice, and (thankfully) they still let the media in the press box to observe the 90-minute session. 

Fortunately, those trash cans didn’t see much playing time, as the new trio of Hawkeye quarterbacks took reps against actual defenders for a majority of practice. Still recovering from a November 2022 surgery on his right knee, Michigan transfer Cade McNamara saw no 11-on-11 action at quarterback. But he did throw his first “touchdown” at Kinnick during seven-on-seven play. 

With his squad within the 20-yard line and facing the north end zone, McNamara threw a pass that smacked a defender in the chest. The ball then ricocheted into the waiting arms of freshman receiver Graham Friedrichsen for a score. 

McNamara went on to throw some more touchdowns during the period, but also an interception to junior defensive back Jermari Harris. In his postgame media availability session, the senior and Reno, Nevada, native was more concerned with health and cohesion than his open practice performance. 

“Most important thing is by the end of spring we can all be healthy for camp,” McNamara said. “But overall, for guys that have been participating, we’ve got to do nothing but get better … really the chemistry has grown all across the offense and the team, whether it’s the O-line or even me with the wide receivers.” 

Iowa’s other Big Ten quarterback transfer, Deacon Hill from Wisconsin, got some series against a full defense. The Santa Barbara, California, native didn’t find the end zone at first, but he connected with sophomore tight end Addison Ostrenga for a 29-yard gain along the hash marks late in the practice.

The Hawkeye quarterback’s next highlight play came when he rolled to his left and completed a toss to running back Leshon Williams in the end zone. Even though Williams ‘hit the griddy’ in celebration, the play was called back because of an offensive penalty. 

Hill originally committed to Fordham following his transfer from Wisconsin last winter. But after his switch to Iowa, Hill said he’s embracing gradual progress. 

“You just got to walk in every day and be like, ‘OK, what can I get better at today?’ And you know, that’s been my mindset throughout spring ball,” Hill said. “You know, whether it’s confirming a read, confirming the protection, whatever I can do to get better, that’s what I’m focusing on this spring.” 

Quarterback Joe Labas, off his first start for the Hawkeyes in the Music City Bowl, returned to Kinnick, where he put on quite the show in last season’s spring practice. 

After going 7-for-12 for 93 yards on April 23, 2022, Labas again turned heads this year with a 48-yard touchdown bomb to sophomore running back Max White. After converting a third down to junior tight end Luke Lachey, the Brecksville, Ohio, native hit a leaping Friedrichsen for an impressive reception and a 21-yard gain for the offense. 

Similar to Iowa’s other quarterbacks, Labas’ highs were sobered by poor execution. After overthrowing a wide-open receiver for a would-be touchdown, Labas sailed two passes out of the end zone and was intercepted in one of the final plays of practice. 

However, Labas still sees confidence in the quarterback room

“[McNamara and Hill] are new, I’ve only had one start, and haven’t played in Kinnick,” Labas said. “You know, confidence might be like, ‘What do you mean?’ But, you know, we really are confident about what we do, and we’re clicking together with the playbook and clicking together as a unit.” 

In his post-practice press conference, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said “It’s not a debate” that McNamara will be the starter come Week 1, but added that, as of Saturday, Hill would be the  No. 2.

Even with all the hype around McNamara, fans shouldn’t see him as a savior to the offense just yet. He’s still clearly limited and, outside of the TE group, doesn’t exactly have a world-class group of pass-catchers around him. He’s clearly the No. 1, but he’s not close to his peak. 

As for Hill and Labas, those two are neck-and-neck for the backup job but still prone to mistakes. Hill’s larger frame at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds makes him an intriguing look, but he never saw the field with the Badgers. 

But please, don’t overreact; it’s only April anyway. There were still trash cans on the field. 

Injury report 

Iowa had multiple offensive linemen who didn’t participate in practice, including Michael Myslinski, Connor Colby, Mason Richman, and Daijon Parker.

On the other side of the ball, defensive linemen Logan Lee, Yahya Black, and Noah Shannon were on the sidelines. 

Besides holding on kicks, receiver Nico Ragaini also did not play. Fellow wideouts Seth Anderson and Jacob Bostick also sat out. 

Kicking turnaround 

After a rather horrendous performance in last spring’s open practice, the Hawkeye kickers flipped the script in windy on-field conditions. 

Placekickers Aaron Blom and Drew Stevens went a combined 8-for-8 on field goal attempts, including multiple past 40 yards.