Three out of 29. That ratio equates to just over 10%. It represents Iowa’s success rate on passing downs this season. Passing downs are defined as second down with eight or more yards to go, or third down with five or more yards to go. In those situations, a successful pass gives you one of two things: third and under two yards, or a first down, respectively. Just three times out of 29 attempts in the first two games of the season was Iowa successful, as it’s defined. This is just one of the reasons why the Hawkeye offense ranks 131st out of 131 teams in the FBS.
Quarterback Decision Prompts Concern, Iowa Hosts Nevada
The “Body of Work”
After the performance in the CyHawk game, change at the quarterback position was no longer just a “fan-notion”. It looked to be a necessity. The offense has averaged a mere 158 yards per game thus far. That’s last in the nation, and 73 yards less than the next worst offensive team – New Mexico State. Iowa is averaging a full yard less per play than UMass, another metric that comes in dead last in the country. In Kirk Ferentz’ Tuesday press conference this week, he announced that he will be sticking with Spencer Petras as the starting quarterback. The head coach pointed to Petras’ “body of work” when questioned about his decision. That comes despite back-to-back weeks of his starter boasting the worst quarterback rating in the nation.
Since the Penn State victory last season, and in games where Petras was the starter, the team has averaged just eight points per game. The “body of work” has been anything but productive. Backup quarterback Alex Padilla averaged 13.2 points per half in his three starts last season. Ferentz confirming Petras in his quarterback decision prompts concern regarding the inner workings of the program as Iowa prepares for Nevada.
When questioned about the coaching staff being in agreement with the starting quarterback, Ferentz said, “That’s something I wouldn’t share… but I think we’re together.” The way he answered this question makes it strikingly apparent that the coaches are likely not in agreement. Why begin the response with a reluctance to share that information? If true unison was among the coaches, it’s difficult to understand why there’d be any hesitation in answering a simple question.
Introductions: Nevada Wolf Pack
If the Iowa offense was ever given a chance to record better numbers, it would be this game. The Wolf Pack have allowed just north of 400 yards per game this season and nearly six yards per play. First-year head coach Ken Wilson fielded just six total returning starters on this team. He is in the midst of rebuilding a program that lost a lot after last year.
Jay Norvell left the head coach position at Nevada for Colorado State in December, and he brought a lot of their roster with him. Seven players, including what would have been Nevada’s potential starting quarterback, followed their coach to Fort Collins. This left the Wolf Pack in a depleted roster situation for the 2022 season. Nevada’s 2-1 start this year includes a high-scoring loss to Incarnate Word of the FCS and wins against New Mexico State and Texas State.
Offensively, Nevada has run the ball on 62% of their plays this season. Senior running back Toa Taua has gotten the bulk of them and has 246 yards and three touchdowns. Taua is a talented back and will get the ball consistently this weekend. The Wolf Pack have been working with two quarterbacks in Shane Illingworth and Nate Cox. The two have combined for 539 yards, but Cox has the team’s only two passing touchdowns on the year. Cox is 6’-9” and has been the more reliable quarterback for Wilson’s offense. The Hawkeye’s top 10 defense shouldn’t face too much of a test from the Nevada attack. However, it will be a good opportunity for Phil Parker to work in some younger players.
Pivotal Times for Petras
The other side of the ball is where all the eyes will be. Against a defense that gave up 210 rushing yards against Incarnate Word, Iowa should be able to show productivity on the ground. This week, Gavin Williams will be back in the lineup after not playing the first two weeks with an injury. Getting any sort of momentum on offense is critical, and the run game will be the first step in that process.
Any movement in Iowa’s passing game will be a step forward. Petras’ 3.4 quarterback rating this year almost cannot get any worse. However, the Nevada secondary is their area of strength defensively. Their coverage defense is top-20 nationally and is led by Jaden Dedman and Bentlee Sanders in the secondary. Sanders has an interception in all three of the Wolf Pack’s games this season, and four total on the year. As a team, Nevada leads the nation with seven interceptions. They play really well to the ball but have routinely allowed coverage busts and big passing plays. The group has allowed nine passing plays of more than 30 yards this season, the most of any FBS team.
The opportunity for Petras and the Hawkeye offense to show signs of life is in this game against Nevada. Success, though, will not necessarily be taken as a true step forward. The offense should be expected to have a good performance in this kind of matchup. If it does not, the program may face its toughest times since the 2012 season. If it does, it will come as the expectation. The Hawkeyes are supposed to exploit this kind of opponent. True signs of improvement will be difficult to decipher even with improved offensive numbers this week.
Quarterback Decision Prompts Concern, Iowa Hosts Nevada
In what’s building up to be a very telling weekend, this game feels like the last chance for Iowa’s offense to find an identity. If Petras continues to struggle, a decision has to be made for the betterment of the football team. There is currently no spark on offense. Even if Padilla isn’t significantly better than Petras, the switch at quarterback will at least provide a change of scenery, an ignition switch.
The Nevada secondary will give Iowa’s passing game a chance to be successful. Although, they also have shown to take advantage of quarterback mistakes. Mistakes have been aplenty for Iowa’s passing game this year. Now, the team with the most interceptions in the nation is entering Kinnick Stadium this weekend. The decision to stick with Petras this week prompts concern regarding the inner workings of the program and how personnel decisions are made. If similar results continue and no changes are evident, this team has more than a personnel problem, it has a coaching problem.