Iowa postgame mailbag: Hawkeyes' offense hits new low in Cy-Hawk loss. Now what?

Many thought Iowa's offense couldn't get any worse after its abysmal performance in the season-opening win against South Dakota State.

How they were wrong. 

In the Hawkeyes' 10-7 loss to Iowa State on Saturday, Iowa's offense saw a new low. Now how do the coaches fix the wreckage of this offense? That's the question that matters now.  

Iowa gained less yards than they did last week (150), committed more turnovers (three) and held a significantly shorter time of possession (21:45). The result was a stinging loss to the rival Cyclones, snapping a six-game win streak in the Cy-Hawk series and posting their first loss of the season.

It's early, but if the offense can't play better than this, it puts a low ceiling on what can be accomplished this season. 

The Hawkeyes had a chance at the end Saturday, a 48-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds that could have sent the game to overtime. But that boot went awry (albeit in a downpour). But the real focus isn't on the missed kick. It's on the offense that failed time and again to take advantage of brilliant special teams and defensive play. 

"Stating the obvious, we have work to do, obviously, to move the football," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "And we're going to have to score points to be successful. That's where our focus goes."  

That brings us to our Week 2 postgame mailbag. As you can imagine the offense takes center stage in this one. Questions about quarterback play, systematic changes and personnel are coming in left and right.

So let's get to it. 

What is Alex Padilla doing in practice that he's not getting an opportunity? 

Leading up to this game, Ferentz has pointed to practice performance and day-to-day evaluations as the reason Spencer Petras remains Iowa's starting quarterback. He doubled down on that philosophy Saturday, stating the coaches have a lot more exposure to what's going on with the players on a daily basis than the outside world. 

But what are the coaches seeing that's not enabling Padilla to make a jump on the depth chart? It's a fair question, but Ferentz didn't exactly say Padilla was doing anything wrong. 

"It's really not that," Ferentz said. "We see them on a daily basis, and this goes back to the spring and last fall, as well. It has been our estimation that Spencer is the starter, and wanted to give him that chance again (Saturday). We're sitting here right now, clearly, we have to do better, and we'll reassess everything this week." 

Ferentz also noted that with evaluating Petras there's not enough support around him to fairly gauge how he's performing. But throughout Saturday's press conference, he made it clear that the offense's performance through two games has been unacceptable. 

What does this all mean?

For now, we can only assume that Petras is the starter until we're told otherwise. The door for a QB change feels more cracked open than it did a week ago, however. It was interesting that he didn't outright confirm that Petras would start next week against Nevada, as he did last Saturday after the South Dakota State win. 

"I didn't say that," Ferentz said when asked if Petras would start next Saturday. "I said (Saturday) he played the whole game. In my judgment, it was the best way to continue through this game, and gave it some (Saturday night), but I felt like it was our best opportunity. We'll reassess everything (Sunday)." 

Quarterback play is one thing, but where does Iowa's entire offense go from here? 

To me, this is the million-dollar question. One, it's relevant to this season but I think there are bigger implications down the line. To some degree, Ferentz has a point about Petras not getting a ton of support; the rush offense is virtually nonexistent and the receiver unit is injured and non-productive as well. 

Will quarterback play change anything? Maybe it will, maybe it won't, but overall there needs to be a larger conversation about what Iowa's doing schematically. 

In his first presser of the new year, Ferentz doubled down on the offense under offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, his son, and the quarterback room. Iowa didn't hit the transfer portal to find a new quarterback like a lot of programs did this off-season. They didn't make scheme changes, either.  

After the game, Ferentz was asked about that decision. 

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras (7) huddles up with teammates during a NCAA football game against Iowa State, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.

"I'm not sure that's going to help us right now," Ferentz said. "Really we just need to find some ways to move the football and score. We're two weeks into it now, we should have a better idea of what we can do and what we can't do and where the hotspots are and try to compensate for that, and then hopefully we'll get some personnel back, too. Hopefully that'll be part of the solution here, but we don't have a quick fix right now." 

Translation: There can't be wholesale changes made in-season. The short answer is they have to do the best with what they have now. And getting healthy will help. 

Looking into the future, Iowa's offense is at a crossroads. Quarterback and offensive line development has regressed, and there's been serious attrition to the receiver room via departures. Watching Charlie Jones light it up at Purdue, when he was a complementary piece in Iowa's pass game, certainly is a source of annoyance for the fan base.

It's obvious that serious, wholesale change is needed. 

Recruiting offensive linemen likely won't be a problem (see Kadyn Proctor) but recruiting at the quarterback and skill positions will only get more difficult, and the situation with Jones at Purdue right now isn't a singing endorsement when recruiting receivers to Iowa. And without difference makers at those positions, it's nearly impossible to turn things around. 

We almost never see an Iowa defense surrender a 99-yard drive. What happened? 

The ultimate turning point in the game came in the middle of the third quarter when Iowa's offense was inches away from extending their lead to double digits but a fumble gave Iowa State the ball at their own 1-yard line.

What happened next?

The stuff of legends in Ames. And nightmares in Iowa City. 

A 21-play, 99-yard game-winning drive that ate over 11 minutes of game clock. What stood out most: Six third-down conversions. 

"They did a good job of attacking the edges and getting the ball to the outside perimeter," Hawkeye defensive end Lukas Van Ness said. "I think they just did a great job overall, and they outplayed us." 

Did wear-and-tear take its toll on the defense?

Safety Quinn Schulte didn't think so. I was just one of those drives where they were out-executed (even though Iowa State held a 79-52 advantage in plays run and almost 18-minutes more time of possession). Iowa State did a good job of building momentum prior to that series in gaining yards but put it all together for the game-winning score.

It also didn't help that the aforementioned fumble was about one of the biggest swings of momentum and emotion that you'll see in a game. That was tough to overcome.

It's rare that Phil Parker's defense suffers a blow like that … and it came at the worst possible time. 

It just goes to show that you can't expect that defense, as good as it is, to be perfect all the time. 

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.