The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa football Week 1 column | Hawkeye offense flashy early, but is only marginally improved

Even after a historic first quarter, the Iowa offense reverted back to its old ways
Ayrton Breckenridge
Iowa wide receiver Seth Anderson celebrates after scoring a touchdown during a football game between No. 25 Iowa and Utah State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Aggies, 24-14.

For a brief moment on Saturday, the Iowa football offense was a paradise: a land of deep-throw connections with wide-open receivers, confident plays in the red zone, and, believe it or not, passing touchdowns. 

 Yet such a paradise proved only to be a mirage as the Hawkeyes’ offensive potency dissipated in the second and third quarters, only to be revived in the final 12 minutes when the contest’s outcome was basically in their hands. 

A 54-yard kickoff return from running back Kaleb Johnson, followed by a 36-yard TD dime from quarterback Cade McNamara to wideout Seth Anderson? Such a sequence danced in the dreams of the Black and Gold faithful all week, and on Saturday, it became a reality. 

McNamara said after the game that he was surprised but ecstatic by offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz’s play call on the offense’s second play from scrimmage. Instead of running play action like he was expecting, McNamara took a shotgun snap and, with ample time to spare, connected with Anderson on a vertical route for a score. 

In 2022, that 2nd-and-7 play would most likely have been either another run, a screen pass, or a curl route; just eat up the game clock. But two receivers making deep routes so early in the game? Welcome to 2023, Hawks fans. 

Clearly, no one had been pinched, as the Hawkeyes’ offensive fantasies continued to unfold. McNamara took the field and led an 11-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that easily could’ve gone nowhere fast. After throwing two straight incompletions to start the drive (the fact that Iowa elected to pass twice to start a drive is a surprise in itself), the Hawkeyes found themselves in a 3rd-15 hole after a Mason Richman false start. 

This could’ve been the first punt of the day, but Iowa back Jaziun Patterson clearly didn’t want to see Tory Taylor on the field just yet, taking a screen pass three yards behind the line of scrimmage and running 21 yards for a first down. Then, seven plays and three productive runs later, Iowa found themselves at 4th and goal from the three-yard line. 

In 2022, no one would’ve been surprised to see another run. Even on this play, Iowa loaded the line in a jumbo set, but McNamara would only feign a handoff, instead making a fade-away toss to tight end Erick All for another score. At this rate, Brian Ferentz’s contract clause could be met at halftime. 

That first passing touchdown by McNamara was Iowa’s first season-opening drive that ended in a passing touchdown since 1991. Also, those 14 first-quarter points matched the Hawkeyes’ total over their first two games last season.

But this once explosive offense fizzled quickly, as the Hawkeyes had just two plays of more than 10 yards in their next five drives. To add insult to injury, not being able to find the end zone after the Aggie penalty on the field goal attempt was deja vu all over again. Need eight yards in three plays? Simple for the offense fans saw in the first quarter, but that offense was nowhere to be seen. 

In the second, third, and fourth quarters, the Hawkeyes averaged about 3.2 yards per play, worse than their overall mark last season. 

 It’s worthy to note that the Hawkeyes did improve on third down, completing half of their third and short attempts and 35 percent of their overall attempts, a seven percent increase from last season. I said earlier that Iowa should score in at least 75 percent of its red zone trips, and it did just that. 

24 points is also nothing to sneeze at either, but the lack of execution and explosiveness for a majority of the game dampens the euphoric hope felt by everyone in the first 12 minutes. 

That first quarter, Iowa averaged 6.6 yards per play. A happy medium between that number and what they did for the rest of the game would be perfect. It might actually reach the magic number in every game too. 

 Receiver roundup 

Anderson made a brilliant double-move on his TD route to set himself free. He said afterwards that the hardest passes to catch are the wide-open ones, as evidenced by his trip in the end zone. Thankfully, he was able to secure the catch, as I could only imagine the collective groan from the crowd if he didn’t. His performance today merits a good look at him as a starter. Don’t be shocked if he’s atop the depth chart alongside Nico Ragaini by Week 3. 

Fellow wideouts Diante Vines and Kaleb Brown were nowhere to be seen on Saturday, and while their lack of production was disappointing, their target share was rather limited due to an Iowa habit that will never die: feeding the tight end. 

Tight end bonanza 

On All’s touchdown, the Hawkeyes had four tight ends on the field, much to the delight of TE Luke Lachey. Upon receiving word that Iowa would run these formations last week, Lachey said he ran straight for the wide receiver room to tell the wideouts to “take a look at this” and realize that their participation wouldn’t be necessary. 

Lachey led all Iowa pass-catchers with 73 yards, including two crucial third-down conversions. After backing up Sam LaPorta last season, Lachey has stepped up and delivered in his stead. With All, who finished with three catches and 15 yards, as the No. 2 option, this TE room is just as good as last year, if not better. 

O-line mixed bag 

In spite of one sack for a 10-yard loss, the Iowa O-line protected McNamara well on Saturday, which will be incredibly important considering the quarterback came up shaking his right leg after avoiding pressure on a play in the third quarter. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said McNamara isn’t 100 percent, so keeping the Michigan transfer’s uniform clean will be critical. 

With Tyler Elsbury and Rusty Feth rotating in at right and left guard, respectively, the unit produced just 88 net rushing yards. Part of this average production should be contributed to the variety of defensive looks from Utah State, as the Aggies often stacked the box with an extra defender. 

When Iowa faces better secondaries and more potent pass rushes later on in the season, the Hawkeyes will have to lean on the run game, and just under 100 yards may not be enough. 

 Defense still reassuring 

I know that giving up 14 points might look concerning, but a garbage-time touchdown can oftentimes distort perspective. In reality, this defense, led by tackle-machine Jay Higgins, is just as stout as last year. The Hawkeyes stuffed a third of the Aggies’ rushing attempts and had an interception to boot. 

It would be even more encouraging to see the D-line put up more than just one sack, but it won’t take long for the unit to start cashing in on opposing QBs, even without Noah Shannon. 

Up next 

On Saturday, Sept. 9, Iowa will travel to Ames to take on Iowa State in Week 2. The Cyclones defeated Northern Iowa, 30-9, this weekend, as new starting QB Rocco Becht went 10-of-13 passing for 113 yards and two TDs. 

 I predict Iowa will be a three-point favorite as they look to avenge a 10-7 loss at Kinnick last year, its first loss to its in-state rival since 2014. 

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About the Contributors
Matt McGowan, Pregame Editor
he/him/his Matt McGowan is The Daily Iowan's Pregame Editor. He is a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communications and American studies with a minor in sport studies.  This is his second year with the DI
Ayrton Breckenridge, Managing Visuals Editor
Ayrton Breckenridge is the Managing Visuals Editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and cinema. This is his fourth year working for the DI.