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 6 Column | Hawkeyes win ugly yet again behind predictable offense, solid defense

No Iowa wide receiver had a catch on Saturday as the ground game did most of the heavy lifting before stalling in the second half.
Emily Nyberg
Iowa fans watch the Iowa homecoming football game between Iowa and Purdue at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Boilermakers 20-14.

In a Homecoming game where there were two bands and two cheerleading groups composed of current students and alumni, the Iowa football defense nearly did twice the work that it had normally done in the Hawkeyes’ past five games. 

Averaging four tackles for loss, 1.4 turnovers, and less than one sack per game heading into the contest against Purdue, the Iowa “D” turned up the heat on the Boilermakers, generating 12 tackles for loss, six sacks, and two turnovers over sixty minutes of football. Such a performance was uplifting to see, especially for the defensive line, which had been criticized by the media (including myself) for its lack of production. 

Proving the doubters wrong is always fun, and defensive linemen such as Joe Evans and Aaron Graves said the unit was playing with more passion against the Boilermakers. 

As for the Hawkeye offense, the group was practically lifeless, averaging just 20 yards and four plays per drive while looking inept in the red zone as the Boilermakers scored higher in plenty of statistical categories.

Only in the logic-defying Big Ten West does an offense total fewer yards, first downs, and time of possession but still wins the game by six points. And that is exactly what the Deacon Hill-led offense did Saturday, to the tune of six three-and-outs, and three drives totaling negative yards.

Hill shouldn’t take all the blame, for although he did look jittery with all those overthrows in the first half, he developed a nice rhythm with tight end Erick All and managed to turn a passer rating of 1.0 to 78 by the final whistle. 

Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz said Hill is still the starting quarterback, and I completely agree with the choice, as turning to Joe Labas, who does have more experience in the Hawkeyes’ system than Hill, would just require more rekindling of chemistry. Since Labas missed a part of the offseason with a shoulder injury, it’s unclear how much time he got to spend working with Iowa’s new offensive weapons. 

Only in desperate times should Labas see the field, because in the eyes of Iowa’s coaching staff, Hill’s one-turnover performance was enough for a win. In fact, the quarterback’s interception wasn’t even his fault, as receiver Seth Anderson had to catch that ball. Anderson’s attempted grab was the closest a Hawkeye wideout got to making a catch. 

With Ohio State transfer Kaleb Brown out for the game due to personal reasons, Iowa receivers had zero catches on six targets. In the Kirk Ferentz era, such a feat had never been done before, until Saturday. 

Instead, the Hawkeyes turned back the clock, running the ball 62 percent of the time and throwing six complete passes, with five of those tosses winding up in the hands of All. Granted, Iowa’s offense looked somewhat innovative with All’s touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. Lining up with four tight ends on the field, the Hawkeyes looked poise to run a typical zone read.  Instead, All started from the fullback position and ended up catching the ball for a 22-yard touchdown. Such deception is something the Hawkeyes need to turn to more often, instead of deceiving themselves that their offense is enough to win games against high-level competition. 

While at first glance the running attack was outstanding behind a beat-up O-line, rushing for 181 yards on 35 attempts, the ground game was essentially overused in the second half, as Iowa played more than 14 minutes without throwing a pass. In the second half, the Hawkeyes ran the ball 22 times for 70 yards, an average of 3.2 per carry; not as stellar compared to 8.5 in the first half. 

Even though Iowa obviously wanted to chew up clock in the second half, such a repetitive offense gained hardly any yardage and almost allowed a Boilermaker comeback, as Purdue got the ball back, down six, with two minutes remaining in the game following a three-and-out from Iowa.  Fortunately for the Hawkeyes, the defense stepped up in the clutch and delivered once again. 

Meanwhile, Iowa’s offense couldn’t capitalize on the interceptions of Cooper DeJean and Jay Higgins, scoring just three points. In the red zone, the unit was even worse, producing a total of -3 yards on two trips, both resulting in field goals. 

Yes, at the end of the day, the points on the scoreboard matter, but Iowa’s offense looked awfully predictable against Purdue. Such a demonstration may be passable when the defense had the day that it did, but against a higher-graded opponent such as Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes will have a tough time emerging victorious in Madison.  

Contrary to fans’ demands, the offense doesn’t need to be completely rebranded, but rather just expand the playbook beyond “1. Run 2. Pass to Erick All.”  My beloved Chicago White Sox coined the term ‘Winning Ugly,’ in 1983, and 40 years later, the Iowa Hawkeyes are the reincarnation of that Pale Hose squad.  

That 99-win Sox team was once eight games below .500, before turning on the jets to claim the American League West by a whopping 20 games. It remains to be seen if Iowa can achieve such a feat and win the Big Ten West, but just like the outcome of Saturday’s game, it will be baffling if it does. 

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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.