Iowa football postgame mailbag: More run game questions, some love for Jack Campbell after Colorado State win

IOWA CITY — A win is a win. 

Every coach and player will tell you how hard it is to win a football game at any level. Saturday's result at Kinnick Stadium, Iowa besting Colorado State 24-14, was no different.

"(Colorado State) came in here to win the football game," Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz said postgame. "Their guys really played hard and did a lot of good things." 

Still, Iowa's dominant second-half effort pushed their season to a perfect 4-0 start. After trailing 14-7 at halftime, the Hawkeyes reeled off 17 unanswered points to secure the game. 

Iowa is happy to get the win but the players acknowledged that today, they didn't fully play up to their typical standard. 

The rest of the Hawkeyes' Big Ten slate begins next Friday at 4-0 Maryland, and there are still plenty of questions to be answered. Here are several.

After each Iowa football game this year, tweet your questions @SkinnyKenny_ and they might appear in that week's edition. 

MORE: Leistikow's 5 thoughts after Iowa's 24-14 win over Colorado State

Are the running game struggles on the offensive line, the running backs or the play-calling?

There were a lot of questions about the running game in some way, so we'll tackle all of it under this question. After an encouraging performance last week, Iowa's rush offense regressed back to what we've seen throughout the first part of the season.

In total, Iowa rushed for 54 yards on 32 carries (1.7 yards per carry). Take away Spencer Petras' sacks and Charlie Jones' muffed handoff that lost 13 yards and the numbers are better, but still lackluster: 86 yards on 26 carries (3.3 yards per carry). 

Let's first look up front at the offensive line. It's notable that sophomore Justin Britt was out today with an injury. Ferentz doesn't suspect it to be serious, but that meant true freshman Connor Colby played much more today than past games. while senior Kyler Schott is still working himself into playing shape. 

From a game plan perspective, Colorado State sold out to stop the run. Throughout the game they loaded the box, blitzed heavy and for the most part overwhelmed Iowa's offensive line. Meanwhile, that allowed for Iowa's passing game to exploit some one-on-one opportunities. 

But we're focused on the running game. Right now, the biggest issue is the fact that the offensive line is young, inexperienced and still banged up. 

MORE: Iowa's rollercoaster wins still leaves questions entering Big Ten play

Reigning All-Big Ten first-teamer Tyler Goodson was the focal point today with 18 of the 26 carries but couldn't seem to get anything going. The home run ability is still there and we've seen it. It's the in-between, consistent chain-moving runs that aren't there.

Goodson is at his best when he has space to operate. When the holes don't open up the middle, and they didn't today, Goodson bounces outside to gain yardage. Today, Colorado State was all over it and didn't allow for many positive gains. 

These outside attempts are likely a product of Goodson trying to make something from nothing but also, perhaps there's an impatience on his part. Because he wants to gain yardage so badly, he bounces if there's not something immediately present instead of waiting a little longer for something to develop. 

Play-calling wasn't as major of an issue Saturday but a few situations didn't help. Two runs on third-and-long that went for short gains didn't add to the bottom line in the box score. 

Overall, it's a collective effort. The offensive line is still a work in progress and Goodson and his fellow backs still need to find a rhythm. Better execution will help.

Why hasn’t the offense been able to score more often in the first half?

Part of this answer has to do with the answer above — the inability to get a consistent run game going. Aside from that, it's a rhythm thing. Ferentz said as much postgame. 

"We're not playing with the kind of rhythm we want offensively yet," he said. "We probably need a little better plan and we need to execute a little better." 

On the first two possessions of the game, Iowa got a first down and then the drive stalled out quickly after. On the first, a sack stopped their momentum and, on the second drive, not playing ahead of the chains forced a third-and-long. 

The third drive was the best of the game: fast-moving with chunk plays and a touchdown. Two drives later looked like it would end with another touchdown but an untimely interception derailed that. Game plan and execution.

One thing's for certain: The big pass plays were hitting today. Would it benefit Iowa to come out more aggressively with that approach? Maybe. This is the first time this year that we've seen so many deep passes land. What we do know is that execution early on could be better, but overall, the offense did what it needed to do. Without Petras' first interception this year, there might not be as much fan concern. 

MORE: Report card: Grading the Hawkeyes in their 24-14 win vs. Colorado State

Let’s compare Jack Campbell to now from what Week 1 was. INCREDIBLE. 

Iowa junior linebacker Jack Campbell (No. 31, right) comes up with a fumble recovery in the third quarter against Colorado State at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa, on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.

A quick appreciation segment for No. 31. We expected Jack Campbell to break through this season, but the Cedar Falls product who picked the Hawkeyes over the Cyclones in a tight recruitment is blowing away those expectations. 

In each week, Campbell has upped his tackle total. Today was the most stellar output of his career: 18 total tackles and, more importantly, a game-changing fumble recovery in the middle of the third quarter that set up Tyrone Tracy Jr.'s game-tying touchdown. Don't be surprised to see him receive an honor from the Big Ten early next week. 

On the year, Campbell leads the Hawkeyes with 43 total tackles and also has two fumble recoveries. Saturday, like every game, he was everywhere. 

"Just never giving up on a play no matter how far down the field it is," Campbell said. "Just giving all-out effort every single snap, eye discipline and fundamentals. It all starts right there." 

Campbell's quick to defer the credit to the defensive line or his fellow linebackers Seth Benson and Jestin Jacobs (who are the second- and third-leading tacklers, respectively) but it's clear he's the engine that powers Iowa's defense. At 6-foot-5 and 240 pounds, Campbell resembles a big, throwback linebacker of the 1990s and early 2000s, but in 2021 is emerging as a top defensive star in college football. 

Right now it's hard to pick anyone but him as team MVP through four games. 

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 ksmith@gannett.com