Has the Iowa offense finally found a defense bad enough that it can score points? Maybe!
WHO: Nevada (2-1)
WHEN: 6:30 PM CT (Saturday, September 17)
WHERE: Kinnick Stadium (Iowa City, IA)
ANNOUNCERS: Mark Followill, Matt Millen, and Meghan McKeown
RADIO: Hawkeye Radio Network (TuneIn, or local listings) | SiriusXM Ch. 113/196
MOBILE: Fox Sports app
TWITTER: @IowaFBLive | @IowaAwesome | @IowaOnBTN
WEATHER: cloudy, highs in the low 70s
LINE: Iowa -23.5 (TOTAL: 39.5)
Does anything that happens in this game matter? Obviously, if Iowa loses, it will matter -- the blast furnace of heat and pressure under Kirk and Brian Ferentz will, improbably, get even hotter (even if that figurative furnace remains largely impotent in terms of the possibility of inducing real change) if Iowa manages to lose to a Nevada team that's likely one of the worst teams in FBS this year. But if Iowa -- as expected -- beats Nevada, what does that tell us?
Nevada is the least-talented team Iowa will play this season -- by far. If the Iowa offense shakes off the dismal doldrums of the first two weeks of the season and -- prepare yourself for a truly crazy possibility -- cracks the double-digit barrier in points scored, does that really tell us anything? Iowa won't play a defense as poor as Nevada's defense the rest of the season. (Not even Nebraska.) A souped-up performance against Nevada will provide some momentary satisfaction (I know we've largely forgotten the sensation at this point, but it is fun to score touchdowns), but it won't tell us much about the future of the Iowa offense over the remaining nine games of the 2022 regular season. After the sustained struggles we've seen from that unit over the first two games this year -- and, really, going back to much of last season (especially in November and December), the offense is firmly on "believe it when we see it" ground. We're going to have to see them effectively move the ball and score points on a capable (or even semi-capable) defense before we have any measure of trust in them.
If offensive success raises the specter of fool's gold, continued offensive failure would further entrench worst-case-scenario views for the rest of the season. If the offensive line continues to struggle to protect Spencer Petras or fails to open holes for the running game... if the receivers still struggle to get separation and get open... and if Petras continues to make poor throws or hurried decisions... well, that would be all the added confirmation you need that the next nine games are going to be one miserable slog.
Nevada gave up 55 points and 616 yards in a loss to FCS Incarnate Word last week. UIW QB Lindsey Scott, Jr. threw for four touchdowns and 406 yards on just 25 attempts -- a sizzling 16.2 yards per throw. Scott averaged over 20 yards per pass completion (22.5) in that game. Iowa has one pass play over 20 yards for the entire season -- a 27-yard reception by Arland Bruce IV in the opener against South Dakota State. The Wolf Pack also gave up 210 yards and two touchdowns on 44 carries (4.8 ypc) to the Cardinals last week, suggesting some serious vulnerability on the ground as well.
Do I expect 55 points from Iowa in this game? No, unless the defense and special teams decide to score 3-4 touchdowns themselves. Do I expect 616 yards of total offense? Lord no. I'm not sure this Iowa offense could rack up 600+ yards of offense if you spotted them 350 yards to start. But the offense needs to be productive. The opposition is as weak as it will be all year. And Iowa should also have a basically full complement of offensive talent, too -- Keagan Johnson and Nico Ragaini both returned to practice this week and seem likely to see some action in this game, while Gavin Williams also appears to be a full-go, giving Iowa a full set of options at running back.
So what stats do I hope to see from the offense out of this game?
At least 8.5 ypa; that seems fanciful with Spencer Petras at QB and Iowa's propensity for running 3-5-yard routes, but the passing game needs to show some explosive plays in this game.
At least 4.5 ypc; the OL needs to open holes and the RBs need to run through them. Iowa is currently averaging 1.9 ypc this season. That is incomprehensibly bad.
At least one 100-yard rusher; Gavin Williams? Leshon Williams? One of the freshmen? Sure! I don't care which running back does it, but it would be good to see one Iowa RB crack the century mark on the ground in this one. (Unless Iowa executes a successful load-share and has something like three RBs with 75+ yards.)
No more than one turnover; the Wolf Pack have the best turnover margin in the country (+9) and no one has forced more takeaways than they have (11). Meanwhile, Iowa has a -2 turnover margin and has coughed the ball up five times in two games. Turnovers are probably the main way that Nevada can make this game uncomfortably close -- so Iowa needs to take care of the ball. A completely clean night would be ideal, but at the very least Iowa needs to limit the giveaways to no more than one.
- Not many punts; God bless Tory Taylor, but if he's busy tomorrow night, things are still real shitty on offense. I'm going to set the over-under for Iowa punts in this game at 2.5 and I'm praying we don't hit the over there. The offense needs to sustain scoring drives in this game.
Will Iowa achieve these statistical benchmarks? I hope so -- we're not exactly setting "Greatest Show on Turf"-level expectations here -- but we'll see. The first two games have certainly taught us that it's best to set the bar for the Iowa offense as low as possible -- perhaps even underground.
The Iowa offense isn't as shield-your-eyes bad as it's been the first two weeks -- but there are still too many errant throws, dropped passes, and missed assignments. Still, the offense is able to sustain a few scoring drives, the special teams sets up a short field, and the defense scores a touchdown as well.
IOWA 31, NEVADA 3