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Iowa's offense took a positive step in win over Rutgers. Here's what we saw from the Hawkeyes.


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PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Growth was the common theme in Iowa football's postgame presser after its decisive 27-10 win at Rutgers.

The Hawkeyes secured their first road win of the season, first Big Ten win and did so in their most cohesive three-phase win since beating Maryland in October 2021. 

But where Iowa saw the most growth was in the area that had the most question marks coming in — the offense. While they entered and exited the contest as lowest ranked offensive unit in the country, the Hawkeye offense continued momentum from last week's 27-0 win over Nevada. Overall they totaled 277 yards, averaged five yards per play and kept the time of possession relatively even. 

You even saw Spencer Petras complete several chunk plays in the passing game. 

It wasn't a perfect game but they did enough to put fans' minds at ease a bit before next week's contest against No. 4 Michigan. 

"We're continuing to improve," said Petras, who threw for 148 yards on 11-for-17 passing. "Just got to keep building. It's a young group that's going to continue to improve. It feels good to take a step in the right direction, the tape will be proof of that but I believe we took a step forward." 

The two most significant moments for the offense took place one the last drive before halftime and the first drive out of halftime. Pinned on their own six yard line with five minutes to half, the Hawkeyes went on a 13-play, 87-yard drive that ended with a field goal to enter halftime with a 17-3 lead. 

They received the second half kickoff and delivered the knockout punch: a 9-play, 75-yard drive culminating in a 2-yard Leshon Williams touchdown run. Iowa had just one 50-plus yard scoring drive on the season before Saturday, and it was against Nevada.

To have two against a legit Big Ten defense was a big confidence booster. 

"That was great for the (offensive line) I think," Petras said. "When you're backed up in those situations, the defense knows you're going to run it every play. To be able to continue to run the ball in those situations, it's huge. It's something to build on and the improvement we've been looking for." 

Iowa's offensive line had its best performance by far on Saturday night. Against a Rutgers defensive that entered Saturday No. 1 nationally in rush defense (32.3 yards per game), Iowa ran for 129 yards and a sack-adjusted 4.2 yards per carry. Of the 21 combined plays on the aforementioned scoring drives, 14 of them were rushes. 

Additionally, the line only allowed one sack. 

Offensive line rotations continued but each player had good moments. Redshirt freshman Tyler Elsbury saw extended second quarter snaps and Iowa had 129 total yards. Regular guard starters Nick DeJong and Beau Stephens started the second half and helped lead the way on opening touchdown drive. 

"They need to play, and they need to experience some things," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Rutgers made it tough on us — this will be a really good learning tape for us to look at. I think they're competing, playing a little stronger. It's all about taking these snaps and making them beneficial as we move forward." 

The beneficiaries of improved line play were Iowa's running backs led by the trio of sophomores Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams and Johnson. With only 17 pass attempts, Iowa leaned heavy on them on Saturday with Johnson carrying the ball 15 times, Leshon Williams 11 times and Gavin Williams seven times. It was also the first time this season that the full running back room was healthy and available. 

"It was good to have (Gavin and Leshon) together," Ferentz said. "Kaleb is a guy we've watched grow week to week to week. He's unbelievably positive and a great attitude. To have him with the other two guys is something we feel positive about." 

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Everything Kirk Ferentz said after Iowa's 27-10 win over Rutgers
Head coach Kirk Ferentz gave several injury updates, talked offensive growth + more after Iowa's road win at Rutgers.
Kennington Lloyd Smith III, Hawk Central

It wasn't an eye-popping day through the air, especially considering that only one wide receiver caught a pass, but Petras completed 69% of his passes and didn't throw the ball into dangerous windows as he has in the first few games. The most encouraging sign was that the tight ends were heavily involved after a quiet effort against Nevada. 

Senior Sam LaPorta led all Iowa skill players with 77 yards receiving including a 42-yard reception to set up the field goal before half. Sophomore Luke Lachey had two long receptions for 17 and 20 yards, the second of them that helped set up Leshon Williams' touchdown to open the third quarter. 

For LaPorta in particular, it was a good sign for Hawkeye fans to see his 42-yard reception come while lining up at wide receiver. He's split out wide throughout the season to help mitigate the injuries at that position, a completion of that length is evidence that he can be a weapon in multiple spots. 

"It's fun to have a versatile role," LaPorta said. "I'm going to do whatever is asked to me. It's good to get a couple of these receivers back and get back in the trenches but yeah, it's fun to split out and send the ball down the field. I like being in the trenches doing the dirty work too." 

Not all of Iowa's offensive issues are fixed, see a 1-for-9 night on third down conversions and the aforementioned lack of receiver usage. But the Hawkeyes passed it's first Big Ten test, the next one will be much greater: a showdown against one of the nation's best teams in Michigan. 

Is the offense ready? 

That'll be known next week.  

"Offensively, we're trying to learn about guys on each and every rep," Ferentz said. "I think the guys are gaining ground — the backs are, the guys up front are and we just have some receivers on the field now, which is encouraging. We're fighting the time clock a little bit on offense and every snap counts." 

Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at ksmith@gannett.com.