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 true freshman Marco Lainez ignites spark on offense in collegiate debut

Late in the Hawkeyes blowout loss to the Tennessee Volunteers, the three-stair recruit demonstrated obvious mobility, becoming the team’s leading rusher for the game after just three carries.
Ayrton Breckenridge
Iowa quarterback Marco Lainez carries the ball during the 2024 Cheez-It Citrus Bowl between No. 17 Iowa and No. 21 Tennessee at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla., on Monday, Jan. 1, 2024. Lainez made his first career start, carrying the ball six times for 51 yards. The Volunteers defeated the Hawkeyes, 35-0.

ORLANDO, Fla. — Early in the fourth quarter of the Cheez-It Citrus Bowl, as the Iowa football team was down four scores to Tennessee, the coaching staff benched starting quarterback Deacon Hill for Marco Lainez, a substitution that seemed to be one of few bright spots for Hawkeye fans during the 35-0 blowout loss. 

After Hill tossed his second interception of the game — -and third turnover overall after fumbling on a sack on the previous possession —- to Tennessee defender James Pearce Jr. that resulted in a 52-yard pick-six, Lainez entered the game and immediately provided a spark for an Iowa offense that accounted for just 106 total yards over three and half quarters. 

In his first possession under center, the true freshman from Princeton, New Jersey, led the offense to its longest and most productive drive of the day, showcasing his abilities to evade pressure and scramble out of the pocket, but failed to convert on a fourth–and-6 pass after wide receiver Nico Ragani dropped the ball. 

Lainez finished the game with 51 rushing yards on six attempts and two of seven passing for four yards. During the postgame press conference, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said the coaching staff went into Monday’s game considering giving Lainez some reps. 

“We started Deacon and played him the majority of the game [and] we thought he gave us our best chance to win, but at some point, we felt like making a change would be the best thing,” Ferentz said. “[Marco’s] a great young guy. He basically started in August [2023], so the improvement he’s made is impressive.” 

The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Lainez was a three-star recruit coming out of high school, according to 247Sports. As a starter, Lainez helped his high school win two state championships and received offers from schools such as Illinois, Louisville, and Pittsburgh. 

Since Hill was placed into the lineup after previous starter Cade McNamara suffered a season-ending injury in Week 5 against Michigan State, there has been much discussion from Hawkeye fans on potentially making a change at quarterback from Hill. The Wisconsin transfer completed just 49 percent of his passes while throwing five touchdowns to six interceptions heading into the bowl game. 

When speaking to media earlier in the season, Ferentz emphasized many times that the coaching staff evaluated Hill to be the team’s best quarterback after McNamara went down, and Lainez was listed consistently as Iowa’s third-string behind sophomore Joe Labas, who transferred after the Big Ten title game. 

Ferentz said it’s hard giving any meaningful snaps to third-string quarterbacks like Lainez during the middle of the season and said he got more reps in practice as time progressed.  

“[Marco’s] still got a lot of learning to do, but he went out there and competed,” he said. “He got some experience he can draw upon that doesn’t drain a year of his eligibility.”  

Linebacker Jay Higgins, who led the Hawkeyes in tackles during the game with 16, said Iowa’s starting defense got many reps going against Lainez while he was playing scout team quarterback and said he is a leader to the underclassmen on the team.

“He’s a playmaker for sure,” Higgins said. “When you play [quarterback] for Iowa coming out of high school, you’re going to get to practice against Iowa’s defense, and obviously, we’re gonna make you work.” 

Fellow linebacker Nick Jackson, who finished second on the team in tackles with 11, praised the true freshman’s ability to run with the ball and his motivation to keep improving as a player.

“He’s a heck of a football player, and he’s always working on his craft too, staying after practice throwing and stuff,” Jackson said. “Hats off for him to go out there and compete the way he did as a true freshman. I’m really proud of him.” 

Looking ahead to the off-season when Iowa will get McNamara back, and four-star quarterback James Resar will be joining the program, there will for sure be some conversation on who the starting quarterback should be. But judging from Lainez’s performance, the answer definitely won’t be unanimous.

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About the Contributors
Cooper Worth
Cooper Worth, Pregame reporter
Cooper Worth is a Pregame Reporter for The Daily Iowan. He is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in journalism and mass communication. He is also earning a minor in communication studies and an entrepreneurial management certificate. This is his third year at the DI, previously serving as a News Editor and as a News Reporter covering local government in Johnson County for the DI. Cooper interned for the Telegraph Herald in Dubuque, Iowa during the summer of 2023 as a general news reporter.
Ayrton Breckenridge
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.