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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 3 Column | Hawkeyes’ 41 points not necessarily evidence of an offensive revival

The Hawkeyes’ 27-0 run in the second half was complimentary football from all three phases of the game
Emily Nyberg
Iowa players celebrate a touchdown by running back Kamari Moulton during a football game between Iowa and Western Michigan at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023. Moulton carried the ball for 50 yards and two touchdowns. The Hawkeyes defeated the Broncos, 41-10.

At first glance, the 41-10 final score of Iowa football’s victory over Western Michigan says many things. 

For Hawkeye offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz? A boost to his contract incentive of 25 points per game, as Iowa is now at 28. 

For bettors? A truly rare over total points, not to mention the Hawkeyes covering what many thought to be an outrageous 28.5-point spread. 

For fans? A sign that the Hawkeyes’ first-quarter performance in Week 1 against Utah State could actually be replicated. 

For myself? Yet another reminder of why the final score is much too arbitrary a piece of data to take at face value. 

For anyone who watched all four quarters of that game closely, those 41 points weren’t exactly a sign of improvement for the offense. While they confirmed that at least Iowa could score in the red zone (the Hawkeyes were five-for-five in red zone trips), they ignored the fact that those scores were the result of complimentary football and weaker competition. 

I know this might be too crude of an analogy, but this victory reminded me a lot of Iowa State’s 30-9 victory over Northern Iowa in Week 1. Supplemented by two turnovers, as well as a punt-return average of 30 yards, the Cyclone offense only gained 25 yards per drive. 

Likewise, the Hawkeyes also had suburb defense and special teams play on Saturday. Excluding the Broncos’ 65-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, the Hawkeye “D” limited Western Michigan to 3.3 yards per play and only seven first downs. 

For the game as a whole, Western Michigan converted on just 30 percent of its third down attempts and turned the ball over once via a forced fumble from Iowa linebacker Nick Jackson. Iowa cornerback Cooper DeJean almost had a near interception, but the ball sailed just outside of his hands. 

After the game, Iowa linebacker Jay Higgins said it was nice for the Hawkeye D-Line to face a quarterback who didn’t get rid of the ball within two seconds of the snap. Yet even with more time to get to the quarterback, the defense mustered just two sacks and three QB hurries.

That TD bomb from Bronco QB Treyson Bourguet to receiver Anthony Sambucci was a clear-blown coverage from Iowa cornerback Jermari Harris, who got beat by Sambucci within the first 15 yards. Iowa safety Xavier Nwankpa didn’t help out in time, leaving a wide-open Sambucci down the sideline. 

Granted, this was Harris’ first game action, as the cornerback was suspended two games due to gambling, but the Broncos also had another long TD pass called off due to a penalty. 

The Hawkeye defense also looked undisciplined at times, as it fell for numerous play-action QB draws from Bourguet, who collected 4 yards per rush and dashed for a long of 29. 

Higgins said earlier this season that the Hawkeyes have a “bend, don’t break” defense, and I believe that they are living up to that standard. 

Even though they might give up a big play or two, the unit has the talent and playmakers to generate stops and turnovers. Against Penn State next week, any long passes or runs must not result in touchdowns, as the Nittany Lions have yielded just 11 points per game from their opponents this season. 

As for the special teams unit, DeJean’s 77 yards on punt return and receiver Kaden Wetjen’s 88 yards on kickoff return were crucial to providing the offense with good field position to start drives. Combined with the defense forcing the Broncos to punt deep in their own territory, the Iowa offense didn’t have to travel far to find the end zone. 

In fact, the longest Iowa scoring drive was 66 yards, and 53 of those were covered in a Leshon Williams run. On their six scoring drives, the Iowa offense averaged just 41 yards per drive, not to mention going only four-of-12 on third down. 

Even though the Hawkeyes had a larger margin of victory than Iowa State had in Week 1, the similarities between these two games are uncanny. 

Now, I’m not blaming the offense for not producing long-scoring drives with multiple third-down conversions. Where the unit starts on the field is in no way controllable on its part. What I am arguing is that these 41 points are in no way an indication of any offensive revival that fans felt in the first quarter against Utah State. This week was no mirage, but rather outright deception. 

What the Iowa offense can control is turnovers, and Cade McNamara’s two (and almost three) interceptions weren’t very encouraging. While his first pick of the afternoon was more so a good grab from the defensive back on the play, his second just before halftime made Brian Ferentz spike his headset, and for good reason. 

Not only did the quarterback’s ball stay in the air for too long, but his eyes remained locked on the intended receiver Seth Anderson, allowing for the safety to read the play and cut across the field for a grab in the end zone. 

The Hawkeyes proved today that they don’t need a fully healthy running back room to succeed, as evidenced by Williams and true freshman Kamani Moulton’s performances. Therefore, McNamara doesn’t have to be the star of the offense; all he has to do is not turn the ball over. 

Penn State will be by far the best opponent Iowa faces this entire regular season, both in terms of offense and defense. Also, don’t expect any blocked punts in that game (I’m sorry, Adrian Clayborn).

Hawkeye Anterio Thompson said after the game that he was able to get by smaller defenders untouched to block a Bronco punt in the third quarter. Against the Nittany Lions, the six-foot-3, 293 pounder, will be going up against opponents just as big as him. 

By going perfect in the red zone, Iowa gives me hope it will be able to convert on their trips in Happy Valley, but what gives me fear is that the defense and special teams won’t contribute enough to help Iowa get into the red zone in the first place. 

I’ve yet to see a game where the Hawkeye defense is sharp from start to finish, but next Saturday amidst a white-out crowd will be the perfect, and perhaps most necessary, time to do so. Oh, and win the turnover battle, too. For reference, Penn State had five against Illinois in Week 3. 

Achieve those two objectives, and Iowa may fly out of College Station with an upset. The offense won’t even have to score 25 points, but even if it does, the statistic might not mean anything about the unit in the first place.


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About the Contributors
Matt McGowan
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
Emily Nyberg
Emily Nyberg, Visual Editor
Emily Nyberg is a second-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic arts. Prior to her role as a Visual Editor, Emily was a Photojournalist, and a News Reporter covering higher education.