For Iowa football against Ohio State, a new low and many more questions

Kennington Lloyd Smith III
Des Moines Register

COLUMBUS, Ohio − Iowa football fans entered Saturday with modest expectations and searching for some positives.

The opponent was daunting, No. 2-ranked Ohio State on the road, and the 30-point spread was the largest in coach Kirk Ferentz’s tenure. Even the most optimistic fans probably didn't like the Hawkeyes' chances in this game. The Iowa faithful simply hoped that the Hawkeyes would provide reasons for optimism as the second half of the season got underway.

What they got instead: a 54-10 defeat that was even worse than expected and ranks among the worst in Ferentz's two-plus decades as Iowa's head coach.

If Iowa had a functional offense, Saturday’s contest was set up for an upset or at least a competitive game in the fourth quarter. Ohio State’s offense was held in check for most of the contest as Iowa’s defensive effort was nothing short of remarkable.

But Iowa (3-4, 1-3 Big Ten) does not have a functional offense, or really anything close to it.

Iowa elected to receive the ball on the opening possession and in just one play committed the first of its six turnovers. Quarterback Spencer Petras threw an interception on the game’s first play to set Ohio State’s offense just 30 yards from Iowa’s goal line. Iowa’s defense put out the fire, limiting the Buckeyes to just three points. And that would be a common theme until the second half, when Ohio State started scoring at will.

The Hawkeye defense was placed on a short field four times Saturday: on the 29-, 27-, 34- and 32-yard lines. And each time Iowa held Ohio State to a field goal. Entering Saturday, Ohio State had attempted only four field goals all season.

Iowa offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Brian Ferentz, left, talks with Iowa quarterback Alex Padilla (8) on Saturday.

The most potent offense in college football looked fairly pedestrian for a good portion of Saturday's Fox-televised game. The Buckeyes burned two timeouts in the first quarter due to pre-snap confusion. Late in the third quarter, the offense had totaled just 143 yards. Iowa’s defense even gave the Hawkeyes a lead early in the first quarter on Joe Evans' forced fumble plus recovery for a touchdown. Four first-half turnovers by the Hawkeyes (two interceptions, one fumble and a turnover on downs) gifted Ohio State 16 first-half points (which matched the halftime lead) and dashed any upset hopes.

The beginning of the third quarter summarized the day and Iowa’s season: linebacker Jack Campbell reeled in a one-handed interception on the first play of the second half. Iowa’s offense fumbled on the very next play to give Ohio State the ball back, but the defense forced a 3-and-out. Two plays later another Iowa turnover, an interception, gave the Buckeyes the ball inside Iowa’s 15-yard line.

The levees broke and the defense surrendered a short-field touchdown. Ohio State added two more touchdowns to rub salt in Iowa's wounds in a 44-point defeat.

Both early third-quarter turnovers were attributed to backup quarterback Alex Padilla, who played his first snaps of the season on Saturday. He and Petras finished Saturday with sub-50% completion percentages and multiple turnovers each.

Who will start the rest of the way is officially up for debate, but the offensive problems run much deeper than just quarterback.

Iowa’s offensive day summarized: 158 total yards and six turnovers. Not nearly good enough to compete against a team like Ohio State. The offensive line had another dreadful day as well, giving up 14 tackles for loss including five sacks.

What could’ve been a day filled with optimism (even in a loss) ended in humiliation.

Fans had questions about where the team’s season would trend out of the bye week. At least against Ohio State, it trended the wrong way in a hurry.