There’s no disagreement that the Iowa offense has been inconsistent this season. From play calling to execution, every game has had it’s shortcomings offensively. However Iowa is undefeated in the month of November, and is currently tied for the lead in the Big Ten West. The Hawkeyes are perhaps the most unflattering 9-2 teams in the country, but that’s just it – Iowa is 9-2. After losing to Purdue and Wisconsin in blow-out fashion, the Hawkeyes have trekked through the last month of the season with success. Despite the sporadic performances under offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, Iowa’s November imperfect perfection has put Iowa in position for a 10-win regular season and an outside shot at Indianapolis.
Run Game Improvements
Iowa struggled to establish any sort of offensive pulse against Purdue and Wisconsin. Even against Penn State and Colorado State, two of Iowa’s best three games statistically, the offense as a whole averaged just 102 yards rushing per game. One of the areas that Iowa has figured out in November has been the run game. Tyler Goodson eclipsed the 100-yard mark against Northwestern for the first time since week three. In the three November games combined, Goodson has 332 yards and is averaging five yards per carry. This improvement has been key in Iowa’s November victories, because the passing offense has struggled.
Getting the ball to other playmakers on the ground has been another angle of attack in November. Freshman Arland Bruce IV has scored two rushing touchdowns in November, and both were of the end-around variety inside the red zone. Bruce has been a favorite of the new quarterback, Alex Padilla. The offense has looked his way a lot more since the quarterback switch. Their chemistry stems from taking reps together in early spring camp, and it has shown on the field in November.
Gavin Williams is the other back who has become much more involved this past month. With Ivory Kelly-Martin’s injury keeping him sidelined in November, Williams has been able to take a substantial amount of snaps. Against Northwestern and Illinois, Williams had 20 carries and averaged 4.9 yards per attempt. The redshirt freshman has taken 28 snaps in November compared to just 15 in all five of his other appearances this year. His involvement has given the run game a new dimension this month, and the ground game has excelled.
Elusive in the Pocket
The switch at the quarterback position against Northwestern may very well have been the move that turned the season back around. With the Spencer Petras injury continuing to keep him on the sideline, Padilla has led the Hawkeyes to three straight November wins. His stats have not been pretty, but he is doing enough to put Iowa in position to win. Padilla’s best game came against Minnesota where he scored three total touchdowns. Last week, he finished with just 89 yards and an interception. However, it’s not the stats that are giving Iowa the opportunity, it’s his legs.
With Padilla at quarterback, the element of dynamics is introduced to the offense. A lot of the problem with Petras at quarterback was his mobility and avoiding pressure. The young offensive line ranks 103rd in pass protection nationally and has allowed 81 total quarterback pressures this season. Padilla has the ability to flush the pocket which has been pivotal in November. In the first eight games of the year, Petras was sacked on 29% of all pressures which accounted for 24 total. In Padilla’s three games, he has been sacked on just 17% of pressures for five total. While the sample size is smaller for Padilla, it is already evident that his mobility has aided in avoiding sacks and keeping plays alive. His passing numbers aren’t sky-high, but Padilla has been able to make something out of nothing at a higher clip than Petras.
The key piece holding all of this together for the Hawkeyes this year has been the defense. The streak of games allowing under 24 points came to an end against Wisconsin, but since then, they have picked up right where they left off. In November, Iowa has allowed 19 points per game on average. Illinois scored a garbage-time touchdown last week that inflates that number a little bit, but this group has been very consistent. Phil Parker has done an excellent job of adjusting during games, and shutting down the opponent.
At this point in the season, the Hawkeye defense ranks 12th nationally, and 4th in coverage defense. Dane Belton recorded his team-leading fifth interception against the Illini while Jack Campbell had a pick-six. Campbell’s interception made him the 11th Hawkeye to record a pick this season. Iowa continues to lead the nation in interceptions with 21 now on the year. The group has been elite, and has kept the Hawkeyes within striking distance in virtually every game. With an offense that struggles to perform consistently, the defense has been a driving factor in this nine-win season.
November’s Imperfect Perfection
It hasn’t looked great at times, but the Iowa Hawkeyes are 9-2 and undefeated in the month of November. A win on Black Friday would give the Hawkeyes their third 10-win season in the last seven years. It might not feel like it, but Iowa is in the midst of their best four-year run in the Hayden Fry – Kirk Ferentz era. Since 2018, Iowa is 34-11 with a 0.756 winning percentage. That ties the four year streak from 2001 to 2004 where the Hawkeyes were 38-12 (0.76). It surpasses the streak from 1984 to 1987 where Iowa was 37-12 (0.755). Iowa might have the most oddly successful team in the country, but they keep winning.
A win against Nebraska would make the last four years the most successful four years for Iowa football since 1956 to 1959. That came in the Forest Evashevski era, where Iowa won the Grantland Rice Trophy in 1958; a trophy given to the National Champions as voted upon by the FWAA. The Hawkeyes have built a model of consistency in college football, and November’s imperfect perfection continues the consistency of winning.