How true freshmen Arland Bruce IV and Keegan Johnson are expanding Iowa football's offense
Last week, it was Keagan Johnson.
This week, it was Arland Bruce IV's turn.
It's rare for true freshmen to break Iowa football's playing rotation. And yet this year, Bruce and Johnson are not only playing but making impactful plays. And now, the roommates scored their first career touchdowns in back-to-back weeks.
Johnson took center stage last week against Colorado State. He led the receivers with 92 yards on only two receptions, including a 49-yard touchdown in the 24-14 win. On Friday night's 51-14 drubbing of Maryland, Bruce recorded the game's first catch: a 12-yard pass from quarterback Spencer Petras that showed his nifty running skills.
Early in the second quarter, after Iowa forced the first of four second quarter turnovers, Petras found Bruce again for an 8-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 17-7.
What did Bruce do immediately after? Find Johnson on the sideline.
"He was the first one I looked for," Bruce said. "He said he looked for me first last week. He just said 'Good job.' It was all good."
In total, Bruce led all receivers in catches (6) and finished second in receiving yards (44) on Friday night. He tallied the most snaps of his young career. Petras, the team's veteran quarterback, credits Bruce's approach for why he was prepared for the moment.
"With any true freshman, there's obviously going to be hiccups," Petras said. "But I haven't (seen) a ton from him. Starts from practice: He's a guy who busts his ass every day in practice and that's where that chemistry develops."
Petras sang similar praises for Johnson last week, who he noted can win on the outside against defensive backs and make explosive plays. The freshmen duo are adding a dynamic element to Iowa's expanding offense.
Johnson flashed his speed and big-play ability last week while Bruce is a zone-beater with impressive running skills to get yards after the catch. For example, he took an end-around run last week for a 13-yard rush that set up Johnson's touchdown. On Friday, he showed his versatility lining up at multiple positions at receiver.
Their development might've been quicker than expected but head coach Kirk Ferentz is welcoming it openly. As he noted after Friday's win, with two receivers departing for the NFL after last year, the Hawkeyes' receiver room needed all the help they could get this year.
"With everything, they've handled it like third-year guys," Ferentz said. "School, social life, football and now we're seeing them improve on the field and starting to gain some confidence hopefully. I've been really impressed."
Like Johnson last week, Bruce confirmed this week that his breakout performance is a confidence-booster. The process for those two dates back to January of this year.
Then, they were among six early enrollees in the 2021 recruiting class, Iowa's highest ranked class in over 15 years with the nation's No. 24 ranked class, according to 247Sports. That decision to get an early jump has paid dividends.
"I'm just really grateful," Bruce said. "That's one of the main reasons why I came here in January and ended my high school career early. I'm just really grateful that I all worked out."
Now, five games into the season, Bruce, Johnson and also offensive linemen Connor Colby are making significant impacts.
And it's only just the beginning.
"It means a lot. I feel like we have a special class," Johnson said. "Connor is one of the hardest dudes I know. Arland is another hard-worker and he'll show more in the future. He's super special. He has an explosive ability and he just has a knack for making big plays."
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 email@example.com