There’s still one more game left for Iowa to play in 2022, but the story of the 2022 season has already been written for the Hawkeyes. It’s not going to go down as a banner year for Kirk Ferentz’s crew, but it will count as the 10th straight season that Iowa achieved bowl eligibility.
Regardless of what happens on Dec. 30 against Kentucky in the Music City Bowl, there’s plenty for Iowa to take away from this season.
Some will be things Iowa did well in 2022 and needs to continue, while some will be things that the Hawkeyes must fix to get back to where the program and its fans want to be. Here are a few observations from the 2022 Hawkeye campaign!
Ferentz Got A Lot Out of This Team
Few people in Iowa City will be happy with a 7-5 record, but reality showed that this Iowa team did quite well to achieve that mark. It’s easy to forget that Iowa sat at 3-4 after seven games and its best win at the time was over Rutgers.
They’d lost to Matt Campbell’s Iowa State program for the first time since Campbell took over in Ames, they weren’t competitive with Ohio State or Michigan and they barely escaped FCS power South Dakota State thanks to two safeties from the defense.
But Ferentz guided the Hawks to a 4-1 finish, including wins at Purdue and Minnesota. That’s a team that never gave up on the season and banded together to maximize its abilities. That’s the sign of good coaching.
Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz plans a significant review of his program, like after the 2014 season.
He called transfer portal opportunities “exhilarating” and the Hawkeyes are going to be aggressive in player acquisition.https://t.co/9WQHWyPbHZ
— Scott Dochterman (@ScottDochterman) December 5, 2022
This Season Could Have Produced More
But here’s the other side of that coin: the Nebraska game. It’s hard to fault Iowa too harshly when you consider that Spencer Petras left the game with an injury, but on the other side of the coin, Petras doesn’t cover Trey Palmer. A defense-heavy team like Iowa cannot afford to have Palmer go 87 yards for a touchdown on Nebraska’s second possession of the game.
The game was there for Iowa to win, and with it, the Big Ten West title. Sure, Iowa would have gotten flattened again by Michigan in Indianapolis, but being there and hanging another banner would have been a big step over their division rivals. Instead, Purdue claimed the division and Iowa handed Nebraska a major starting point for new coach Matt Rhule’s rebuild in Lincoln. That’s far from ideal.
— Hawkeye Football (@Hawk_Football) December 10, 2022
Ferentz Dominated Iowa’s Other Rivals
Iowa has three main goals for each season: win its rivalry games with Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin, win the Big Ten West and earn a bid to a quality bowl. The Hawkeyes got two out of three, in part because Ferentz continues to excel in rivalry games.
Over the past eight years, Iowa has played Wisconsin almost to a draw. The Badgers are usually ranked higher than the Hawkeyes, but Iowa has gone 3-5 against Wisconsin over the past eight matchups and won two straight in Iowa City.
Ferentz went 4-0 against former Nebraska coach Scott Frost and has won eight of 10 against the Cornhuskers. As for Minnesota, Floyd of Rosedale’s taken up residence in Iowa City.
The prized pig hasn’t traveled north of Silver Lake since 2014, as the Hawkeyes have won eight straight over the Golden Gophers and Ferentz is 6-0 against P.J. Fleck. That’s big for Iowa’s long-term success.
Phil Parker Did Another Fantastic Job
Iowa fans should feel grateful for Parker’s loyalty to the Hawkeyes and to Ferentz. Most other coaches would have fled Iowa for a head coaching job by now, as there’s no doubt Parker’s earned one. But Parker is so comfortable in Iowa City that he’s not leaving for just any job, which is one reason his name hasn’t even come up in Kent State’s opening for a head coach.
And Iowa is better for having him. Parker produced another top 10 defense that kept Iowa competitive when the offense struggled. The Hawkeyes held eight of 12 opponents to 10 points or less and gave up an average of just 14.4 points per game. That’s how a defense can win football games.
Just a reminder of what Phil Parker and Iowa's defense did to Brock Purdy one football season ago.
Phil Parker is the best defensive coordinator in the country. He deserved to be a Broyles Award finalist. If you're a defensive player, he'll put you in a position to be great. pic.twitter.com/mesnoOMC68
— Rob Donaldson (@RobDFB) December 12, 2022
LeVar Woods Remains a Rising Star
Special teams coach Woods is an Iowa life, but the Hawkeyes shouldn’t expect him to stick around forever unless he becomes Ferentz’s successor. Iowa’s special teams were again excellent, and Woods’ coaching is a big part of that. Woods was a special teams ace in the NFL, and he’s shown he knows what he’s doing when it comes to calling plays and teaching special teams at this level.
He’ll also be only 45 years old at the start of next season, which makes him very attractive for another program to poach as a coordinator or a head coach. Iowa can’t offer him either of those because his background is defense, and Parker isn’t leaving and shouldn’t for as long as Iowa can keep him. Ferentz’s contract runs through 2029, and the 67-year-old has shown no signs of slowing.
Woods might well become Ferentz’s successor one day, but it’s likely he’ll first cut his teeth as a defensive coordinator or a MAC head coach before Ferentz retires. Iowa fans should enjoy him while they have him.
— Memorial Football Recruiting (@FMHSRecruits) May 12, 2022
The Offense Proved a Train Wreck
There’s not much you can say about Iowa’s offense that hasn’t already been said. It simply hasn’t worked on that side of the ball for years now, and Brian Ferentz remains employed only because of his last name. The Hawkeyes got little out of Spencer Petras or Alex Padilla, and neither quarterback will be on the roster next season.
It’s hard to call 2023 a make-or-break year for the Iowa offense because firing his son would make holidays rather awkward for Kirk Ferentz. But at his core, Ferentz wants to win, and if Iowa doesn’t start moving the ball on offense, he’ll have to make a difficult decision.
The Quarterback Job is Cade McNamara’s to Lose
Help is apparently on the way at the quarterback position in the form of Marco Lainez and James Resar, but Iowa has to be ready for the possibility that neither might be college-ready when they arrive in Iowa City. Resar won’t get here until 2024, and Iowa needs a bridge to him from this wretched offensive season.
In steps McNamara, a former Michigan quarterback who should be an improvement on Petras if he’s healthy. The knock on McNamara coming out of Ann Arbor is that he’s a one-dimensional quarterback and doesn’t possess the playmaking skills of replacement J.J. McCarthy, but Iowa isn’t concerned about that. All the Hawkeyes want from their quarterback is someone who won’t turn the ball over and can occasionally put points on the board.
Say what you will about Petras, but he did improve at taking care of the football this year. Without that, Parker’s defense wouldn’t have been able to keep Iowa in games. The problem is that although Petras wasn’t throwing interceptions, too many Iowa drives ended in punts. Punts are of course better than turnovers, but Iowa needs points. If McNamara can lead Iowa to two or three touchdowns per game, that will be more than enough.
Cade McNamara is ready to change the narrative of Iowa's offense ✍️ pic.twitter.com/h4BY8IVS7G
— 247Sports (@247Sports) December 13, 2022
Iowa Continues to Churn Out Top Tight Ends
Iowa’s known as Tight End U for a reason, and Sam LaPorta and Luke Lachey kept up that tradition. LaPorta led Iowa in receiving yards in 2022, and he’s likely to be picked on the second day of the 2023 NFL draft.
LaPorta served as an excellent safety valve for Petras this season, and he’s a big reason why the quarterback protected the ball much better this season. Losing him for the Nebraska game really hurt, as it became much harder for Iowa to extend drives.
Lachey looks like the next great Iowa tight end, and he should form a strong connection with McNamara for next season. He shined against the Cornhuskers with LaPorta hurt, and he should be even better as the unquestioned No. 1 tight end next season.
Iowa Needs More From Its Wideouts
Part of this is on Brian Ferentz and Spencer Petras, given what Charlie Jones did in West Lafayette this season. For the season, Iowa wide receivers and running backs caught 99 passes for 935 yards and two touchdowns. In Purdue’s vertical offense with Aidan O’Connell at quarterback, Jones caught 110 passes for 1,361 yards and 12 touchdowns on his own.
That cannot continue. Iowa can’t expect talented wide receivers to come to play in Ferentz’s system when Jones just showed how much better life can be for a wideout in a more open offense. The Hawkeyes must make changes, either by opening up for their receivers or fully embracing the ground game.
Kaleb Johnson Might Have Something
What Kaleb Johnson did to Purdue and Nebraska could be a great sign of things to come for the young running back. Johnson averaged 5.4 yards per carry and topped 100 yards against the Boilermakers and Huskers, going for a 75-yard touchdown in the latter game.
Johnson is probably not a bell cow running back, but Iowa can and should focus on getting him 15 touches per game. If he’s paired with a more power-minded back and McNamara proves to be a solid fit at quarterback, Iowa might improve drastically on offense in 2023.
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) November 5, 2022
Credits on Featured Image: Alan Light/Flickr/Creative Commons License