Nevada Football: First Look At The Iowa Hawkeyes
The Wolf Pack will do battle with the Iowa Hawkeyes in non-conference action this September.
Is punting still winning?
Nevada Football: First Look at 2022 Non-conference Opponents
The Nevada Wolf Pack will close out their four-game non-conference schedule with a road trip to the Midwest to face the Iowa Hawkeyes in Week 3.
Iowa, of course, will rarely blow you away and instead choke the life out of you with stellar defense and special teams, a recipe they rode once against last year to great success. Will that change at all in 2022, or do the Hawkeyes have the pieces in place to push that envelope farther and challenge for a Big Ten title?
Location: Iowa City, Iowa
Conference: Big Ten
Series History: This will be the first meeting between Nevada and Iowa.
2021 Record: 10-4 (7-3 Big Ten)
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (24th year at Iowa; 178-110 with Hawkeyes, 190-131 overall). Ferentz’s Hawkeyes just kept on rolling in 2021, winning ten games for the second time in three seasons and securing the Big Ten West division title for the first time since 2015. While their conference championship game battle with Michigan wasn’t pretty, they were otherwise more than happy to lean on their good fortune and composure in close contests (4-0 in games decided by eight or fewer points), beat rival Iowa State for the sixth time in a row and a top-five Penn State team, all of which enabled Ferentz to sign a contract extension back in January.
Sam LaPorta, TE
LaPorta is almost certain to be the next Hawkeyes tight end to find his way into the NFL, but for right now he’s on the shortlist of the best players at his position anywhere in the country. Last season, he set career highs with 53 receptions for 670 yards and three touchdowns, so the 6-foot-4 and 249-pound Highland, Illinois native will be a big component of the Iowa attack in 2022.
Sam LaPorta led Big 10 TEs last season in…
🥇 Catches (53)
🥇 Yards (670)
🥇 Yards after catch (299)
🥇 Yards after contact (206)
🥇 Catches of 15+ yards (18)pic.twitter.com/wanw3qzxBE
— PFF College (@PFF_College) May 12, 2022
Riley Moss, CB
Defense is where Iowa makes its biggest impact and Moss is quite simply one of the best cornerbacks anywhere in the nation. Last year, he was a first-team all-conference selection for the first time after making 39 total tackles, including three tackles for loss, and breaking up five passes to go along with four interceptions. His PFF overall grade of 80.1 ranked fourth among qualifying Big Ten cornerbacks last year, so he could change the tenor of the game with one Nevada mistake.
Riley Moss: 4 INT’s in zone coverage this season, most in College Football🤫 pic.twitter.com/nwzsvO041k
— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 2, 2021
Jack Campbell, LB
Campbell, like Moss, is simply one of the best defenders anywhere in the Big Ten. He led the entire country last year with 143 total tackles and knew how to create havoc to boot, with 3.5 tackles for loss, six passes defended, and two interceptions. Chances are when the Wolf Pack offense takes the field, you’ll hear his name early and often.
Tory Taylor, P
It’s almost a prerequisite to talk about punting when discussing Iowa football, especially when (again) the Hawkeyes boast one of the nation’s best at the position. The Australian was a Ray Guy Award semifinalist in 2021 after finishing 13th in the country with an average of 46.1 yards per punt and pinning nearly half of his punts (39-of-80) inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, enabling the defense to do what it does best from a position of strength.
Spencer Petras, QB
Petras isn’t the flashiest quarterback in the Big Ten, but he gives the Iowa offense exactly what it needs. In 2021, he completed 57.3% of his throws for an average of 6.5 yards per attempt and ten touchdowns, but one possible area of improvement is in taking better care of the football since he also had an interception rate of 3.1%, too high for a ball control offense.
Iowa’s offense is a lot like San Diego State in that underwhelming numbers like the ones put up in 2021 — 4.67 yards per play (120th in FBS), 1.75 points per drive (104th), 39.7% of available yards earned per drive (105th) — aren’t necessarily a huge concern to Ferentz and his son Brian, the Hawkeyes offensive coordinator. You might read stories about optimism that things will improve but, even if they don’t, it’s mostly worked out in years past.
A big step forward from Petras would help, especially since Iowa’s top three pass catchers return from last year, too: LaPorta and wide receivers Keagan Johnson, who is working his way back from injury, and Nico Ragaini. Finding a way to replace Tyler Goodson’s production at running back would help even more, but the Hawkeyes have a stable of youngsters who could take up that mantle like sophomores Gavin Williams (65 carries, 305 rushing yards) and LeShon Williams, as well as true freshman Kaleb Johnson.
The offensive line needs some new faces to step up, too, following the departures of veterans like Tyler Linderbaum, a first-round NFL Draft pick this past spring. It’s a unit that could skew young with a trio of returning starters that include two sophomores, Mason Richman and Connor Colby, set to hold things down at left tackle and center, respectively.
There’s no two ways about it: Iowa’s defense was elite in 2021. The Hawkeyes finished seventh in the country by allowing just 4.72 yards per play, ninth in points per drive allowed, and fourth in available yards percentage allowed, and they return the majority of that production with seven starters back for this season.
Up front, Zach VanValkenburg won’t be easy to replace, but Lukas Van Ness was a Freshman All-American after picking up seven sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss and John Waggoner (3.5 TFLs, two sacks) was a solid end piece, as well. Behind them, Campbell and Seth Benson (105 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, two sacks) will patrol the middle with help from Jestin Jacobs.
In the secondary, Moss is the veteran leader but the unit isn’t without experience otherwise. Strong safety Kaevon Merriweather (42 tackles, four passes defended) made seven stars last year while cornerback Jermari Harris (34 tackles, four INTs) made six. Better yet, the future may be now in Iowa City with true freshman like Xavier Nwankpa also in the mix to carve out a role.
It doesn’t seem likely that the Wolf Pack will be overrun by an Iowa team that’s more than happy to sit and wait for breaks to come their way, but it also doesn’t seem clear that they’ll have enough answers on offense to get the best of what looks like, on paper, one of college football’s best defenses.
Iowa 24, Nevada 9