Iowa survived a difficult first half of Saturday’s game to beat Colorado State 24-14 at home. Spencer Petras threw his first interception since November of last season, and the run game struggled to get its footing all afternoon. However, Petras made some great passes for explosive plays and the Hawkeye defense came up with a key turnover in plus-territory. At the end of the day, Iowa advanced to 4-0 on the season, and the defense and special teams units continue to excel giving their offense great opportunities to score as Iowa Shakes off the Rams.
After a scoreless first quarter, the Iowa offense gained some life with an 87-yard touchdown drive. Spencer Petras tossed a long, 43-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Keagan Johnson. The ball was perfectly placed and his first collegiate reception went for six. With that pass, and the few deep passes Petras made last week, it felt like Iowa was beginning to get a feel for the downfield passing game. At the end of the second quarter, Iowa began to put together another long drive. Petras again dropped a deep ball right in the hands of Johnson. This time for 49 yards, Iowa advanced to the Colorado State 24 yard line.
Following the 49-yard pass, Iowa entered the red zone and Petras did something we haven’t seen since last November. On a bubble screen, Petras threw into very tight coverage and the pass was intercepted by Robert Floyd and returned 62 yards to the Iowa 23 yard line. The Rams ended up scoring at the end of the half to go to the locker room up a touchdown on the fifth-ranked team in the nation.
Prior to the interception, Petras was seven of nine passing with solid yardage through the air and touchdown. He really seemed to be comfortable making the deep throw and was standing tall in the pocket. After the interception and in the second half, Petras began to dump the ball off to his check-down targets and missed some open down-field throws. On one instance, he had Tyrone Tracy Jr. wide open in the middle of the defense but didn’t see him and checked it down. It would have been an easy catch and score, but his eyes weren’t down the field.
Petras also held on to the ball for too long on multiple occasions. Instead of throwing it away, it looked like he tried to run from the sack, but ended up getting tackled for big losses. He had -17 yards on three sacks. This pattern was evident against Iowa State two weeks ago as well. The sacks that week took Iowa out of field goal range. If Petras can start to feel that pressure earlier and get the ball out, it will make for some more manageable third down situations. It’s likely a quick-fix, but it’s something that has had major drive-specific implications.
Despite giving up his first interception of the season, Petras was able to finish the day with two touchdown passes and over 200 yards. He was 15 of 23 and actually had his best effective rating of the season and a 91.7 passing grade according to Pro Football Focus. That’s his best since taking over as the starter in 2020. Petras had a very solid statistical performance on Saturday. He showed great touch on a handful of deep-balls, and was consistent with the check-down option. If he can clean up his over-throws and more consistently throw the ball away when he gets pressure, Petras will have a big impact on the offensive success.
Run Game Struggles
For a team that prides itself off of a strong run game, Iowa struggled to run the ball against the Rams. The Hawkeyes had a sack-adjusted rushing total of just 75 yards on the day, averaging only 2.6 yards per carry. Tyler Goodson had two carries for more than 10 yards, and Arland Bruce IV broke off a long carry on an end-around. Other than those runs, Iowa was not able to find run lanes, and the ground game couldn’t get their footing.
The offensive line received a low 51.4 run blocking grade from Pro Football Focus after Saturday’s performance. Colorado State was noticeably able to penetrate the offensive line and contain Iowa’s run game. The line struggled to create running lanes for Goodson and gave up three sacks on the day. Iowa is relatively young up front, and their chemistry looked spotty on Saturday. There’s talent on the line and in the backfield, it just needs to be cleaned up before the October schedule.
Jack Campbell and Defensive Rebound
Colorado State scored two touchdowns on Saturday. Their first scoring drive started at the Iowa 35 yard line. The second started at the Iowa 23 yard line. When a defense starts a possession with their back against the wall, it’s hard to expect no ensuing points. Those 14 Rams points were enough to take the lead at the half, but the Hawkeye defense shut them down otherwise. Colorado State only gained 3.4 yards per play and didn’t move the ball all that effectively on their non-touchdown drives.
The player of the game was Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell. He finished the day with 18 tackles, two pass-breakups, and a fumble recovery inside the Colorado State 10 yard line. The fumble recovery came after a Tory Taylor punt to the CSU 19 yard line. That drive only went backwards and the fumble started Iowa’s second half momentum. Iowa scored a touchdown after the fumble to tie it. On their next possession, Iowa’s Charlie Jones returned a punt to plus-territory, and the Hawkeyes scored on a 27-yard touchdown pass to Sam LaPorta to take the lead.
The third quarter was all Iowa and the number five team in the country was able to dig out of the first half hole. Jones had a fantastic day in the return game. He had 111 yards on six total returns averaging 20 yards per return. His elusiveness helped capitalize on defensive stands and gave Iowa great starting field position and momentum. The Hawkeyes average drive started at their own 39 yard line.
Iowa Shakes off the Rams
A win is a win. Colorado State looked like a much better Rams team than that who lost to Vanderbilt two weeks ago. CSU forced Iowa off the field and held them to just 55 total plays as opposed to 78 Rams offensive snaps. Despite the shaky first half, the Hawks rebounded in the third quarter. This was in large-part thanks to Jack Campbell and the Hawkeye defense getting the key fumble near the CSU end zone. Iowa moves to 26 straight games allowing 25 points or less. The win streak now extends to 10 games dating back to last season. There are some areas of improvement that are necessary on the offensive side of the ball if Iowa wants to keep winning in the Big Ten. But they are still winning. This last non-conference game gave Iowa its first half-time deficit of the season and a good bit of adversity to overcome. At the end of the day, Iowa is 4-0 and continues to perform at an elite defensive level. Iowa travels to Maryland next week for Friday night football.