After big Cy-Hawk game, Charlie Jones emerging as go-to target for Iowa offense

AMES, Ia. — For over a year, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz and his staff have known about wide receiver Charlie Jones' ability as a return specialist. But so far this year, he's emerged as a weapon on offense and a go-to target for quarterback Spencer Petras. 

Jones was equally effective on offense and special teams in No. 12 Iowa's 27-17 win over No. 10 Iowa State on Saturday. He recorded 100 total yards: 64 yards on four punt returns and 36 yards receiving with one touchdown. 

At first glance, his receiving numbers don't pop: just three catches for 38 yards.

But a closer look shows that Jones' number has been called at critical times, and each time he's delivered. 

Against Indiana, Jones had one reception for 2 yards. The catch? A fourth-down conversion from Petras that helped set up a touchdown in the second quarter. 

MORE: Iowa football vs. Iowa State report card: It was a great day for the Hawkeyes

Petras and Jones connected twice again in the second quarter of Saturday's nationally televised matchup against Iowa State. Petras first found Jones on a 10-yard completion that put Iowa on the Cyclones' 26-yard line with just over a minute left in the first half. One play later, Petras hit Jones on a post route for a 26-yard touchdown on a beautifully placed ball in between two defenders, putting the Hawkeyes up 14-3 just before halftime. 

"That's one of our base plays," Jones said of the score. "When I lined up, I knew that it was going to be an option for us. Spencer made a perfect throw to a spot that only I could get it so yeah, it was a great play." 

Iowa wide receiver Charlie Jones (16) scores a touchdown despite defensive efforts by Iowa State defensive back Datrone Young (2) during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Ames, Iowa.

Petras and Jones' chemistry dates back to 2019, when Petras was a backup to Nate Stanley and Jones was a walk-on who left a scholarship at Buffalo to try his luck in the Big Ten. The two became instant friends off the field and practice companions on the field. 

During the height of the pandemic last year, Petras and Jones frequented the practice field, working on routes like the post pattern that turned into Iowa's second touchdown Saturday. 

To Petras, Jones' work ethic makes him both an easy person to root for and a pleasure to play with. 

"Everyone is seeing what he can do on special teams," Petras said, "but when there's a guy like Charlie, how hard he works and how much he cares about football, I'm just really happy for him." 

More:'Just watch': Inside Charlie Jones' winding journey to become a starting receiver at Iowa

Jones has gone from a little-known high school recruit from Illinois to earning high praise from ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit during Saturday's broadcast. That evolution, really, is a microcosm of Iowa's team. 

Linebacker Jack Campbell spoke about players like Jones and others who make up Iowa's roster in the postgame presser. Players who are not always the fastest, strongest or highest-recruited and yet, Iowa has found success over the years with those players. 

It's definitely working so far this year. Iowa is the only team in the country with two wins over ranked teams. 

Iowa wide receiver Charlie Jones (16) celebrates a touchdown with Iowa defensive lineman Logan Lee (85) and Iowa running back Ivory Kelly-Martin (21) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Iowa State on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, in Ames, Iowa.

"Iowa gets a lot of guys who might not run the best 40 (yard dash) or jump the highest," Campbell said. "We're kind of mutts compared to the other recruits in the nation and we carry that mentality with us every day." 

Jones' winding road from Deerfield, Illinois, to Buffalo to Iowa City is unconventional but a perfect fit within the mold of Iowa's team. His hard work is paying off and Ferentz can't help but to have fun watching it unfold. 

"We've been able to watch him in practice evolve into a good receiver," Ferentz said. "He was OK last year but he's really fitting into our offense and that (touchdown) was a huge play for us in this game. It's been fun to watch him and I'm glad he's on our football team." 

More:Instant analysis: As Spencer Petras goes, so goes Iowa football's offense (and season)

Iowa dominated the day over rival Iowa State, but the offense still needs steady improvements if they're to reach their goal. Through two games it appears that Jones will be an integral part in the offense moving forward. 

Saturday might've been a breakout performance of sorts for Jones, but like Iowa's team, he's not resting on it.

Rather, he's turning his attention to what's to come. 

"It's definitely been a long journey," Jones said. "But I wouldn't change the path in any way and every step I've learned something new about myself. I took a risk leaving Buffalo and my hard work is paying off and I still have a lot more to prove." 

Kennington Smith is the new Iowa Hawkeyes beat writer for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at