#5 Iowa 30, Kent State 7: Huffing And Puffing

By RossWB on September 18, 2021 at 6:44 pm
© Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

When is a 30-7 victory not all it's cracked up to be? If you watched this game, you probably understand. The final stats paint a picture of a pretty dominant, no-stress Iowa victory. 

Final score? Iowa 30, Kent State 7
Total offense? Iowa 419, Kent State 265
Rushing yards? Iowa 206, Kent State 82

Iowa covered the game's 22.5-point spread, but this victory was not a cruise from start to finish. Iowa needed a touchdown before halftime to open a nine-point lead on the Golden Flashes. And in the third quarter they were mere inches away from conceding a Kent State touchdown that would have cut Iowa's lead from 16-7 to just 16-14. That would have been some serious "hold on to your butts" territory. We've been there, done that with more than a few MAC teams in the past; it's never a good feeling and it's usually not a good portent for the season to come. 

Of course, the game never did get to that 16-14 point and we never did have to see how Spencer Petras and the Iowa offense might have performed in a tight second half. It never got to that point because of -- who else? -- the Iowa defense. Jack Campbell and Jestin Jacobs -- who had goal line heroics a week ago -- combined to force a fumble from Kent State running back Bryan Bradford on the edge of the goal line. The ball bounced into the end zone, where Riley Moss was fortuitously placed. Hawkeye ball, touchback, threat extinguished. Whew

The Iowa offense responded to that takeaway with one of their best drives of the game: it covered six minutes, 11 plays, and 80 yards, and was capped off by a sweet 35-yard Tyler Goodson touchdown run (his second of the game). In the span of 15 minutes of real time, Iowa went from a possible 16-14 nailbiter to leading 23-7 heading toward the fourth quarter. 

The best drive of the game -- or at least the most quintessentially Iowa drive of the game came in the second quarter, when Iowa took the ball over at their own 5-yard line and proceeded to methodically plod 95 yards over the course of 20 plays (!) and 8:38 of clock. There was impressive balance on the play-calling that drive: nine rushes and eleven pass plays, although most of the actual damage was done through the air (66 yards) than on the ground (29 yards). Drives like that are exactly what the word "methodical" was created to describe. The longest play of the drive? 11 yards. 

Iowa's offense did find a little explosive spice at times today, mostly from Tyler Goodson, who had one of his finest days as a Hawkeye, and finished with 153 yards and three touchdowns (both career-highs) on 22 carries. 

It was a relief to see Goodson find some running room, after two weeks where he mostly seemed to be trapped in a closet whenever Iowa called a run play. It still wasn't perfect; his other 20 carries went for 3.7 yards per carry and there were a few too many times when the holes simply weren't there. The offensive line very much remains a work in progress for this Iowa offense. 

The other part of the Iowa offense, of course, is the passing game and it was... frustrating. Spencer Petras did complete 25/36 passes on the day, good for a 69% completion percentage (nice). That's marked improvement from the first two games of the year. But those 25 passes also went for a grand total of 209 yards; he averaged 8.4 yards per completion and 5.8 yards per attempt -- neither of which are great stats. 

Most of the time Iowa's passing offense really does look like it's played on a field about the size of a stamp -- or a shoebox if you're feeling more generous. For most of the game, Petras' longest completion of the game was an 18-yard connection with Sam LaPorta (who was once again his favorite target all day: seven receptions, 65 yards, 1 TD). That was eclipsed by a 48-yard bomb (!) on a play-action pass (!!) to Nico Ragaini late in the game to set up Iowa's fourth and final touchdown. But that big play was so startling because of how unusual it was. Downfield passes remain a deeply endangered species in this passing offense right now. 

But credit where it's due as well: in that punishing 20-play drive in the second quarter that Iowa used to open up a 16-9 lead, Petras did make several very clutch throws, including several that extended the drive: 

  • 3rd & 9 at the Iowa 32: 11-yard completion to Sam LaPorta (first down)
  • 3rd & 3 at the 50: 6-yard completion to Arland Bruce IV (first down)
  • 3rd & 10 at the Kent State 29: 10-yard completion to Tyrone Tracy, Jr (first down)
  • 3rd & 5 at the Kent State 5: 5-yard completion to Sam LaPorta (touchdown)

So on four must-convert third downs, he went 4/4 for 32 yards, three first downs, and a touchdown. To be sure, he got some help from his receivers -- the Tracy completion especially was all about Tracy's run after the catch, as well as the blocks he got from his teammates on that tunnel screen -- but Petras still deserves some props for making some clutch passes on a critical drive for Iowa. There's still a lot of room for improvement overall, but we can tip our hat at this performance in that moment. 

As for the Iowa defense, if you can have a ho-hum day when you hold an opponent to just seven points, then that's what happened today. Perhaps that's just the nature of the absurdly high bar they've set with their recent performances. They did give up a few more big plays in the passing game than normal (Riley Moss is not going to enjoy film study this week), but they also scored for a third-straight game, notching a safety in the first quarter to help Iowa open up a 2-0 lead. And, as we discussed earlier, the biggest play of the game was the forced fumble in the third quarter that prevented the game from getting uncomfortably close. They also held a Golden Flashes running game that had been averaging over 350 yards per game to just 82 yards on 41 attempts today -- although that did include sack yardage and, good lord, did the Iowa front seven feast today.

They finished with seven sacks and eight tackles for loss and just made life miserable for Kent State's backfield all game long for the most part. Lukas Van Ness and Joe Evans led the way with two sacks apiece, but Zach VanValkenburg had 1.5 sacks as well. John Waggoner also had a sack, while Jack Campbell finished with 11 tackles (3 solo), 1 TFL, 0.5 sacks, and a forced fumble at MLB. Jestin Jacobs played the most snaps of his Iowa career to date and again looked very good, finishing with 8 tackles (3 solo). Campbell got credit for the forced fumble in the official stats, but Jacobs was in on that tackle as well. 

All that and at one point Iowa took a delay of game penalty (why???) and then ran a fake punt (WHY???????) near midfield in a two-score game in the fourth quarter? That entire sequence was baffling and maddening and once again it ended with the defense cleaning up someone else's mess. After taking over at their own 39-yard line and completing a 10-yard pass on first down, Kent State's offense went incomplete pass, sack, sack, and punted the ball away harmlessly. 

Through two games we allowed the satisfaction of two mostly dominant wins over ranked opponents to overshadow lackluster showings by the Iowa offense. We don't have the luxury of relishing another Top 25 victory this week so the glare falls a little more harshly on the offense. It was better than what we saw in the first two weeks of the season (and god help us if it wasn't better against Kent State than Indiana and Iowa State) but there's still a lot of room for improvement. Hopefully we see more progress against Colorado State. But for now 3-0 and a win that wasn't really in doubt in the fourth quarter will do just fine. 

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