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 5 Column | Hawkeyes earn morale-boosting win, but now have a completely different season outlook

With quarterback Cade McNamara most likely out for the season, a Deacon Hill-led offense will have growing pains that the Hawkeye “D” will have to deal with.
Grace Smith
Iowa and Michigan State line up on the line of scrimmage during a football game between Iowa and Michigan State at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Spartans, 26-16.

For better or worse, no Iowa football fan will forget the final September evening of 2023, when the Hawkeyes took on Michigan State. Prior to kickoff, most fans thought this Big Ten battle would be a ‘get right’ game following a disastrous performance last week at Penn State. Yet just about seven minutes into the game against the Spartans, this narrative was flipped on its head. 

What started as a contest mired by early adversity concluded as a game ending in a raucous celebration. Such a victory was necessary not only for conference standings but also for proving to  Hawkeye players and coaching staff that regardless of who is under center, Iowa can still pull out a W. 

The 26-16 victory will improve what was once a dire mood surrounding McNamara’s injury, but this morale booster will only last so long, as the road ahead for Iowa becomes a lot more difficult than it did just one week ago.  

In an uncanny resemblance to his injury at Iowa’s open practice on Aug. 12, McNamara once again took a non-contact fall while moving up in the pocket. The only difference is that his left leg suffered the damage, and such harm appears to be a lot worse than a month ago. 

Self-titled doctors on Twitter (including my Dad, who is in fact real-life family practice doctor) diagnosed McNamara with an ACL injury. The quarterback’s left ankle didn’t appear to roll; instead, the left leg just seemed to give out when planting on the turf. Even though Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz didn’t give an exact update on the Michigan transfer’s health, my guess is that the QB is out the entire season. Being carted off and returning on crutches is never a good sign. 

After just five games, the most hyped-up transfer portal acquisition for Iowa football may not see the field again till 2024. That all depends on if he chooses to come back to Iowa City for another year of eligibility, which I’ll wager he will. 

Regardless of the future of McNamara, the reigns of the Hawkeye offense have been turned to sophomore signal caller Deacon Hill. Prior to Saturday, the Wisconsin transfer played in just four collegiate games this season, with all of those contests being in garbage time. In what Hill called his most meaningful playing time since high school, the Santa Barbara, California, native finished the contest against the Spartans on 6-of-11 passing for 79 yards on a touchdown. 

Most of this production was featured on Iowa’s only offensive touchdown of the night, as Hill threw three passes to tight end Erick All for 69 yards and a touchdown. On the scoring drive, Hill demonstrated signs of mobility, rolling out of the pocket on play action to connect All down the sideline. 

Even though Hill is rather large for the QB position at six-foot-three and 258 pounds, he still has two healthy legs, which unfortunately McNamara didn’t have even at the start of the 2023 campaign. In addition, Hill will prove worthwhile in the run game by taking the snap under center and bullying his way through the line of scrimmage for a first down, which he did against the Spartans. 

Yet these advantages are accompanied by side effects, as Hill’s lack of collegiate experience can lead to a lot of poorly executed or mistimed throws, as seen on Saturday when some of his tosses were practically uncatchable for Hawkeye wideouts.

The sophomore’s first career interception in the Black and Gold in the third quarter was the result of staring down the intended receiver Steven Stillianos. To make matters more troubling, Hill almost had another pick on a tipped pass later on in the game. 

Iowa pass-catchers will also have a prolonged period of adjustment for Hill, as he delivers the ball with a noticeable velocity. All said he prefers having the ball thrown harder at him, but even he had one of six drops from the Hawkeyes on Saturday. 

More playing time and reps with the first team (which he had plenty of when McNamara was out for two weeks of fall camp) will help Hill and improve his chemistry as the season progresses, but does the Iowa defense have enough firepower to overcome these growing pains, not to mention an offense that ranks near the bottom of the FBS? 

Granted the Hawkeye “D” shined in the turnover department on Saturday, producing four takeaways to match their total on the season. Now with eight so far on the campaign, Iowa is still a bit off from matching its 23 turnovers from last year. 

Against the Spartans, the Hawkeyes generated no sacks, yielded 4.9 yards per rush, and let up 4.6 yards per play. Yes, turnovers do flip the script of the game, but takeaways are difficult to control and shouldn’t be relied on as the only metric of success. For the season, the Hawkeyes have allowed more rushing yards per attempt and yards per play than in 2022. 

Nevertheless, I still think this defense is good, great even. It has playmakers at linebacker and the secondary, even if the defensive line unit takes longer to hit its stride. 

If Cooper DeJean doesn’t get a chance to return that punt in the fourth quarter, then all of the defense’s efforts on Saturday night would’ve been for nothing. Long story short: the Iowa “D” needs to play at their best and match its on-field disruption for last season. Linebacker Jay Higgins and Co. will have plenty of chances to do so, as they figure to be on the field more than the offense this year anyway.

Whether or not you remember the image of McNamara being carted off or the scene of DeJean making a house call to win the game, Saturday’s game will be etched in Hawkeye lore. The exact sentiment of this legacy remains to be seen, but if there’s one thing that is guaranteed, it’s that the rest of the season will be a trying one. 

Prior to this weekend, fans may have seen a Big Ten West as a cakewalk for the Hawkeyes, but now those division games against foes such as Illinois, Minnesota, and Purdue might no longer be gimmes. In other words, the tale of this season isn’t, ‘beat Wisconsin and head to Indianapolis,’ it’s ‘beat every opponent, no matter how ugly it looks.’ 

With defense and special teams most likely paving the way for this completely reset offense, that goal will be easier said than done. 

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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
Grace Smith
Grace Smith, Senior photojournalist and filmmaker
Grace Smith is a fourth-year student at the University of Iowa double majoring in Journalism and Cinematic Arts. In her four years at The Daily Iowan, she has held the roles of photo editor, managing summer editor, and visual storyteller. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Grace has held an internship at The Denver Post and pursued freelance assignments for the Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Des Moines Register.