Iowa's offense 'exploded' against Colorado State. It came at the perfect time.
Iowa reached an important milestone on Saturday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium. No, not their 10th consecutive win (only the third time in the Ferentz era) or the longest non-conference winning streak in the country (10 games).
This milestone will have a much more significant impact on this season. For the first time this year, Iowa's offense hit their "explosive plays" quota.
"One of our goals offensively is to have over five explosive plays per game," quarterback Spencer Petras said. "Plenty of nice plays by the receivers, good calls by coach Brian (Ferentz) and good execution up front. Those kind of things."
The Hawkeyes hit for six explosive (20+ yards) plays in their 24-14 win over Colorado State. Good news for the passing game: Five of those plays came through the air. Tyler Goodson (who also had a 27-yard run), Keagan Johnson, Sam LaPorta and Nico Ragaini accounted for the five receptions of 20-plus yards.
The breakout performer of the day was the true freshman Johnson. The Bellevue, Nebraska, native recorded his first career catch: a 43-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter where he won in single coverage. Later on in the quarter, Johnson reeled in a 49-yard reception.
He led all receivers in yardage (92) on only two catches.
"Keegan is a really talented guy," Petras said. "Any time I get that guy one-on-one, it's something I'm going to look at. He did a great job of beating his guy and out-running him, so great play by him."
The second score through the air came in a different way. Iowa ran a few tunnel screen plays last week and took advantage of that being on film this week. They ran a fake screen in the middle of the third quarter, Colorado State bit and left LaPorta wide open for the go-ahead touchdown, 21-14.
"It was kind of one of those trick plays we had dialed up early in the week," LaPorta said. "I saw it as a post-safety zone. I saw the safety who should've been covering me drive on the ball which should've been going to the tunnel screen. It's a timing thing, you feel the timer in your head and slip up the seam and I was wide open."
Petras credited Colorado State's defensive strategy for Iowa's big play chances. The Rams set out to stop Iowa's rushing attack. They loaded the box, blitzed heavily and for the most part played a Cover 1 defense, which left cornerbacks in one-on-one matchups.
"If you're going to play Cover 1 we have guys that can win matchups," Petras said. "It feels good to hit some and it's something we have to keep working hard at. I thought we made good progress hitting a couple of those, if they're there we have to hit them. Those are huge plays in a game."
For where the Hawkeyes are this season, this breakout performance couldn't have come at a better time.
The rush offense has been a point of concern this season. It's fair to assume that opposing teams will continue to sell out on stopping the run and forcing Iowa to be more aggressive through the air to move the ball. Fans were hoping to see more of this aspect as Big Ten play quickly approached.
On Saturday afternoon, it showed. No doubt, that's a confidence boost for everyone involved and possibly a sign of what's to come if Iowa's offense is to continue progressing.
"That'll help us if we can mix those in," Ferentz said. "That always makes things better, coverage has to help you a little bit. Our guys had a couple there and then had a breakdown on the one that Sam had but yeah, (Petras) did some good things there."
Petras has led the Hawkeyes to 10 straight wins and up until Saturday did so mostly turnover-free. That's being rewarded in more trust from the coaches and as a result, more opportunities in the pass game.
The hope is that the rush offense will come around. But there will be games when the balance falls on Petras' arm and his ability to push the offense forward through big plays.
With Big Ten foe Maryland looming on Friday, there's tangible proof that Iowa's explosive play potential is there.
"I think we left a couple out there," Petras said. "We got a hungry group of guys who are really practicing well and working hard. I have no doubt we'll continue working hard and the results are a byproduct. They'll show up."
Kennington Smith is the Iowa Hawkeyes beat writer for Hawk Central. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org