Coming into Saturday’s matchup against Northwestern, the Hawkeyes had only 12 trips inside the red zone on the season. That was good for dead last in the FBS. They increased that number by nearly 50% on Saturday. Five red zone appearances resulted in five scores. Twenty-three of the Hawkeyes’ season-high 33 points against Northwestern were scored in the red zone. Seven of Iowa’s eight possessions on the day ended in points. It was a complete reverse of the script from what has been on display in recent weeks. The Hawkeyes won their first home game against the Wildcats since 2014 by a dominating score of 33-13.
Offense On Display
Entering the week, the depth chart featured a unique word “or” in the quarterback column separating Spencer Petras and Alex Padilla. Petras trotted out for the offense’s opening possession as he has for the last three seasons when healthy. Any thoughts of concern were quickly put to rest as he led the offense 63 yards into the red zone for the first time since their game against Illinois three weeks ago. The opening drive was led by Kaleb Johnson rushing for 34 yards on three carries. Petras was two of two for 21 yards on the drive. The offense sputtered in the red zone and settled for three, but the production was there. It would continue to be that way for the remainder of the game.
Petras handed Johnson the ball 14 times for 88 yards. He showed why he is likely to be the future of the Hawkeye backfield. His performance in this game as a true freshman is reminiscent of Tyler Goodson’s emergence as a true freshman back in 2019. Johnson is explosive at the point of attack and averaged 6.3 yards per attempt on Saturday. His quickness in getting through the offensive line was impressive, and it led to a successful day in both phases of the offense.
At quarterback, Petras had, arguably, his best game of the season. He finished the day 21 of 30 with 220 yards, a touchdown, and an 81.5% adjusted completion percentage. More importantly, he did not turn the ball over. He threw three interceptions in the last two games but was clean all day against the Wildcats. The offensive line gave Petras considerably more time in the pocket than in recent weeks, and the results showed. Eight different Hawkeyes had receptions on Saturday. Sam LaPorta and Nico Ragaini combined for 119 yards. Luke Lachey caught the first passing touchdown for the team since October first, ending a 28-day dry spell.
The Hawkeye offense gained six yards per play on offense against Northwestern and converted 25 first downs. Their most on the season prior to this weekend’s game was 16 against Michigan. The 25 conversions were Iowa’s most in a game since gaining 25 against Maryland in 2021.
Defense Wins Up Front
Through three quarters, Northwestern had totaled just 99 yards on offense. Evan Hull was limited to 32 yards on the day, and the Iowa defense totaled eight sacks for -54 yards. The battle at the line of scrimmage was one of the key components of this matchup, and Iowa was dominant in that area. Seven different Hawkeyes recorded a sack on the day. The sacks were combined with ten total tackles for loss resulting in an additional 63 yards in the wrong direction for Northwestern. The Hawkeyes recorded back-to-back sacks on two occasions in this contest.
Late in the second quarter, Northwestern punted the ball to Iowa at midfield. Iowa had a 13-0 lead at the time and took over with 89 seconds remaining in the half. Then, the offense proceeded to do something that hasn’t been done all season. Petras led the offense six plays for 50 yards on four of four passing. It ended with the Lachey touchdown with 22 seconds left in the quarter. The drive lasted 67 seconds. It was the first time the Iowa offense had put together a meaningful, two-minute style touchdown drive since the 2020 season. Petras led a couple of drives of in this fashion during the COVID year against Penn State and Illinois.
This was ultimately the possession that put the game away. Iowa took a commanding 20-0 lead into the half and largely put the game out of reach. It proved to be valuable early in the second half as well. Both teams punted on their opening second-half possessions, but Northwestern scored on their second drive. Iowa’s 20-7 lead after that score felt a lot different than a 13-7 lead would have at that point in the game. The Hawkeyes immediately answered on their next possession with a Drew Stevens 54-yard field goal to stretch the lead to 17 points. It was his career-long field goal, and the true freshman kicker was four of four on the day. He improves to 12 of 13 on the season and is making himself a dependable leg on special teams.
Red Zone Hawkeyes Fly Against Northwestern
The 20-point victory against the Wildcats was a much-needed spark for the Hawkeyes. Brian Ferentz’s offense amassed 393 total yards. It was the most of the season since the Nevada game in September and the most in Big Ten play by over 100 yards. The win also snapped a three-game losing skid entering the weekend. Iowa improves to four and four on the season, still with a chance to earn bowl eligibility. Earning a bowl bid would grant an extra few weeks of practice for the young team. The additional time on the field would be huge for their development going forward. Iowa will need to win two of the remaining four against Purdue, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Nebraska. It will be a gauntlet of Big Ten West opponents. However, it’s something that this team is capable of doing, and has done so in recent years. A road trip to West Lafayette is on deck where the Hawkeyes will meet another divisional opponent with some familiar faces in Purdue.