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Iowa Hawkeyes 2023 Football Preview

Great defense and special teams. But still with a Brian Ferentz offense.

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

In recent seasons, Iowa football has been a dichotomy of an elite defense, great special teams and an offense that is, well, offensive to the point of being a joke to the rest of college football. Adding to the comedy value is that Iowa’s offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz is the son of the head coach Kirk. Ferentz will eventually retire as Iowa’s winningest football coach, which makes Brian a tough assistant to replace. In order to address the concerns of nepotism, Brian Ferentz officially reports to the athletic director and not his dad. (Of course, on the field, the athletic director can’t really be involved, so that’s a formality.)

Prior to his retirement this summer, former athletic director Gary Barta forced Brian to accept a reworked contract that eliminated rollover provisions, cut his pay and set a standard of 25 points per game to be retained past the 2023 season. Unfortunately for Brian, Iowa started the season a point under that target with a 24-14 victory over Utah State.

One reason why Iowa fans were optimistic that Brian could meet this 25 point metric was the arrival of Michigan transfer quarterback Cade McNamara. In three seasons at Michigan, McNamara completed 63% of his passes with 21 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Shortly after losing the Michigan starting job to J.J. McCarthy, McNamara tore his MCL and underwent season-ending surgery. During preseason practices last month, McNamara injured his leg again, but returned to practice last week and completed 17 of 30 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns. Backing up McNamara is Joey Labas, who started the Music City Bowl after Spencer Petras suffered a career-ending shoulder injury against the Huskers and Alex Padilla transferred. Labas completed 14 of 24 passes last season for 139 yards and a touchdown.

At running back, the combo of sophomores Kaleb Johnson (6’0” 220 lbs.) and Leshon Williams (5’10” 210 lbs.) return. Johnson led the Hawkeyes with 779 yards and six touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. Williams rushed for 412 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 3.6 yards per carry. Freshman Jaziun Patterson rushed for 47 yards while redshirting last season.

Iowa’s receiver room took a big hit at the end of last season when Keagan Johnson and Arland Bruce hit the transfer portal. That leaves just senior receiver Nico Ragaini (6’0” 196 lbs.) and junior tight end Luke Lachey (6’6” 255 lbs.) as returning starters. Lachey caught 28 passes for 398 yards and four touchdowns last season, earning him honorable mention All-Big Ten honors, joining a long list of decorated Iowa tight ends. Ragaini caught 34 passes for 386 yards and a touchdown. Michigan transfer Erick All (6’4” 255 lbs.) followed McNamara to Iowa City, and Iowa also grabbed five-star Ohio State transfer Kaleb Brown (5’11” 197 lbs.) as well.

Iowa’s offensive line returns all five starters from last season, lead by junior left tackle Mason Richman (6’6” 330 lbs.). They also added Miami-Ohio transfer guard Rusty Feth (6’5” 324 lbs.), who had 34 career starts for the Redhawks, which means that Iowa’s line should be even better than in 2022.

For all of the jokes that Iowa’s offense invokes, the Hawkeye defense is nothing to laugh at. Up front, while Iowa loses a first round NFL draft pick, they return three defensive linemen who were at least honorable mention All-Big Ten. Defensive tackles Logan Lee (6’5” 277 lbs.) and Noah Shannon (6’0” 289 lbs.) were honorable mention All-B1G with 54 and 39 tackles respectively. Senior defensive end Joe Evans (6’2” 246 lbs.) earned third-team All-Big Ten honors with 41 tackles last season. Junior Deontae Craig (6’3” 266 lbs.) put up some big numbers (31 tackles, 6.5 sacks) as a reserve, so the Hawkeye line should be just as strong in 2023.

Linebacker could be a question mark with the loss of All-American Jack Campbell and Seth Benson, but considering Iowa’s history of reloading at linebacker, it’s probably not a big deal. Transferring in from Virginia is Nick Jackson (6’1” 234 lbs.), who has 354 career tackles; his average of 10.4 tackles per game led the ACC last season.

Iowa has some holes in the secondary, but does get back first-team All-Big Ten cornerback Cooper DeJean (6’1” 203 lbs.). You last saw DeJean getting destroyed by Marcus Washington with a move that reminded me of Eric Crouch’s 1999 launching of an Iowa cornerback.

Prior to that hit, DeJean had posted 75 tackles with a team-leading five interceptions and eight more passes broken up. Junior cornerback Jermari Harris (6’1” 185 lbs.) missed all of 2022 due to injury, but did have six starts with 34 tackles and eight pass breakups in 2021. Junior safety Quinn Schulte (6’1” 201 lbs.) had 71 tackles last season. Sophomore safety Xavier Nwankpa (6’2” 210 lbs.) got the start in the Music City Bowl and delivered a Pick-Six. All things considered, Iowa’s secondary should be just fine.

Last year’s Nebraska victory broke a seven-game Iowa winning streak in this series. Each of the last five games have been close, but in 2022, Nebraska found a way to stop Iowa in the closing minutes of the game and thwarting the Hawkeyes comeback attempt. I think we all know what to expect from Iowa this season, so the question for this game revolves more around what Nebraska will be this season.


What happens on Blackshirt Friday in Lincoln?

This poll is closed

  • 5%
    It’s another bloodbath, like in the Mike Riley days.
    (5 votes)
  • 33%
    Iowa does what Iowa does. Finds a way to win.
    (30 votes)
  • 40%
    Nebraska is mentally tougher by the end of 2023 and doesn’t let Iowa pull the football away at the end.
    (36 votes)
  • 20%
    Enough is enough. Huskers roll all over the Hawkeyes.
    (18 votes)
89 votes total Vote Now