Where will Iowa find offensive success on Saturday? The answer could be on the ground.

Iowa football's long-awaited first test is finally here. After months of intense scrutiny, the Hawkeyes' offense begin the first chapter of the 2022 season on Saturday at 11 a.m. against South Dakota State.

Quarterback play will likely draw the most attention, as Iowa's completion percentage and yards per attempt were among the worst in FBS last season. But injuries at receiver might complicate how much progress fans see in the pass game, at least on Saturday. With Nico Ragaini out and Keagan Johnson's status in question, there's a good chance that Iowa will have only one receiver with actual game experience in sophomore Arland Bruce IV. 

More on receivers:Iowa football's wide receiver room is depleted by injury. How will that impact Saturday's offense?

Rush offense may set tone for the season

Still, there should be an expectation for the offense to show signs of growth. If not through the air, there's another element to Iowa can turn to, and it might set the tone for the rest of the season: rush offense. 

Iowa had a 1,000-yard rusher last season in Tyler Goodson, but overall the run game lacked consistency. The Hawkeyes averaged only 3.4 yards per rush (11th in the Big Ten) and saw a running back total 100+ rushing yards just four times in 14 games. Iowa's last game showed signs of hope: 173 yards on 5.8 yards per carry, albeit in a 20-17 loss to Kentucky.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz believes he has multiple, capable running backs and an offensive line that, while young, should take a step forward in 2022. 

Game day prediction:Leistikow's Iowa-South Dakota State football prediction: A good Saturday to play big

Could Saturday's game be one in which Iowa implements a run-heavy game plan? If so, and it's successful, a dominant run game could pace the offense until receivers get healthy, or even become the team's identity throughout the season. On Tuesday, Ferentz provided an update on where they're at. 

"They've done a good job," Ferentz said. "We had some injury issues about a week and a half ago which made it a little bit bumpy, but I think everybody is on the same page and that's probably why we need to play. About seven days ago everybody hated each other in the building. Like the offensive guys hate the defensive guys. It happens every spring and every August. So it's time to go and see what we look like against somebody else. That's really where we're at." 

The injuries Ferentz referenced were primarily at offensive tackle, where starting left tackle Mason Richman and reserve tackles David Davidkov and Nick DeJong missed time. Davidkov is lost for the season, but Richman and DeJong are back and Iowa expects to have its full-tilt starting line on Saturday.

That group (left to right) of Richman, Tyler Elsbury, Logan Jones, Connor Colby and Jack Plumb (average: 6-foot-5, 305 pounds) holds a decisive size advantage over South Dakota State's starting defensive line (6-foot-2, 261 pounds). 

And that's not including the tight end group. You'll likely see quite a few two- and possible three-tight end sets (not to mention fullback Monte Pottebaum) to supplement run blocking. 

Iowa's rushing offense last season wasn't consistent (3.4 yards per carry). Saturday's season opener is an opportunity to start the 2022 season with momentum.

While there were injuries at tackle, the interior of the line remained healthy. That allowed for Elsbury and Jones, the two linemen who haven't played a game, to maximize their reps. Colby's position versatility allowed him to move to right tackle to cover injuries. Plumb shifted to left tackle so four of five starting linemen were still present somewhere on the field. 

"Right now we probably have six to seven, maybe eight, guys that we feel comfortable putting out there," Ferentz said. "Obviously if you do the math on that, a couple of those guys haven't played, so that's going to be a little bit of a wild ride and there will be some excitement involved there. But we have the nucleus for a good group, and it's a matter of where all that settles now." 

More:For Iowa's Seth Benson, the South Dakota State matchup is personal … in a good way

More:Leistikow: Why Iowa football expects to stay calm in South Dakota State opener

At running back, there's a good chance there will be a committee approach on Saturday. Sophomores Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams enter 2022 as the top options; Gavin earned playing time last season while Leshon has been a steady riser in the program over the last year. Behind them are Kaleb Johnson and Jaziun Patterson, a pair of true freshmen vying for playing time. It's unknown if both will play, but Ferentz said on Tuesday he believes at least one will see game action. 

'They have to be ready'

Gavin Williams is emphasizing to the young backs the importance of staying ready. Williams was unexpectedly thrust into the Kent State game early last season, carrying the ball several times on a touchdown drive that put the game away in the third quarter. Something similar could happen on Saturday or beyond, and he wants his teammates prepared. 

"You really don't know when that opportunity is presented," Williams said. "Getting them ready for that situation is kind of the biggest thing I've been trying to harp on them. It's a long season, people can get banged up, sore or tired and they have to be ready." 

Internally, the offensive line and running backs aren't entering Saturday with the mindset that they have to carry the offense. Iowa will take its shots through the air. The Hawkeyes have reliable targets available in Bruce and all-conference tight end Sam LaPorta. But establishing the run will be just as important and could end up being the catalyst in the opening contest. 

"I don't personally feel like there's any added pressure," Gavin Williams said. "I feel like it's more we'll do our job. If they need us to do a little bit more then we'll do that. If not then we're doing our thing in the pass game. Whatever's working for us we're going to stick with that and ride it out." 

Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at ksmith@gannett.com.