Sean Bock covers the University of Iowa for Hawkeyeson247 an affiliate of the 247sports.com family of networks. Sean was kind enough to collaborate with me on a set of 5 questions about Utah State’s first opponent of the 2023 season, as the Aggies face the Iowa Hawkeyes on the road at Iowa City. Huge shout out to Sean for joining me this week!!
Offensive Coordinator Brian Ferentz received an odd contract amendment over the off-season that is loaded with incentives for achieving highlights such as winning 7 games and averaging over 25 points per game. Do you feel like Coach Ferentz could potentially become distracted by trying to hit certain bonus points which could in turn affect his playcalling?
I think it will be more of an outside distraction amongst the fanbase and national media than it will impact those inside the program. The offensive personnel for this Iowa team is much improved compared to last year and I think that increase in talent across the offense will play more of a reason in Iowa trying to open things up a bit. I’m not saying that Iowa is going to try and run four verticals and switch to the air raid, but I would expect more deep shots downfield because I think Iowa has a quarterback that the staff believes in more in Cade McNamara.
I will also say that I think Iowa is going to rely a lot on the run game and tight ends. Iowa has two running backs it feels really good about in Kaleb Johnson and Leshon Williams, with Jaziun Patterson being a third option. Iowa has also relied on the run game to open up the offense and I think that’s where the Hawkeyes’ bread and butter will be this fall along with the middle of the field with the tight ends in Luke Lachey and Erick All.
I think Iowa can afford to get a bit more modern with its offense and air it out more, but I don’t expect Brian Ferentz to completely change his playcalling because of the contract amendments.
The Hawkeyes added graduate transfer Cade McNamara last December after he left the University of Michigan. How has McNamara fit in so far and how does he make the Hawkeyes better?
Cade McNamara has been a major bright spot for Iowa since joining the program in January. Iowa fans have been wanting a mobile quarterback for the last couple of years and while McNamara isn’t going to burn you with his speed, he can use his feet and be mobile around the pocket along with making challenging throws and having good zip and accuracy on his passes.
Iowa wants to play with more tempo with McNamara under center and he allows Iowa to do that. The experience and leadership is also a big factor with McNamara. Remember that he helped lead Michigan to the 2021 Big Ten Championship over Iowa, and has played in the College Football Playoff. He has experience that most college quarterbacks don’t have and he is now bringing that to Iowa City.
In watching McNamara in practice, you can tell the confidence that he has in himself and the guys around him. He has developed good chemistry with his receivers and the rest of the players on offense, and the offensive line has continued to build trust in him, too.
McNamara has been dealing with an injury that he suffered a couple of weeks ago in practice. It has not been made official how much McNamara will play on Saturday against Utah State, but the plan is to start him as of now. He has been officially declared “limited” by Head Coach Kirk Ferentz, which means backup quarterback Deacon Hill could very well see some action Saturday against the Aggies.
Sophomore running back Kaleb Johnson burst onto the scene in 2022 with an Iowa freshman record of 779 rushing yards. How does Kaleb change the dynamic of the Iowa offense and what does he do that makes him such an effective back?
Answer: Johnson became the primary running back for Iowa midway through his freshman season and the Hawkeyes expect him to continue in that role this fall. Johnson’s size is the first thing that stands out about him as he is listed at 6-foot, 222 pounds, but he looks taller because of his frame and how well-put together he is along with his broad shoulders.
Johnson is a strong, physical running back that is what you’d expect in a Big Ten running back. He can put his shoulder down and break tackles, along with running in between the tackles, but he can also get to the outside and use his speed to get in the open field and use that breakaway speed to his advantage. He had multiple touchdowns of over 30 yards a year ago and has shown he is capable of making that big play.
What makes this Iowa running back room fascinating is the depth. Johnson is expected to be the lead back, but Leshon Williams has had a great spring and fall camp and is a great fit next to Williams. Jaziun Patterson could also factor into the mix. All three bring something different to Iowa’s ground game, and if it gets the offensive line to improve as it should, this run game for Iowa could be at the top of the Big Ten West.
Senior defensive tackle Noah Shannon was suspended for the season after being implicated in a gambling investigation. How big a loss is this for the Hawkeye defense and who do you expect to try and fill his shoes?
Noah Shannon returned to Iowa for a sixth year and was slated to be a major piece of the Iowa defense on the interior of the defensive line. Shannon doesn’t boast an elite stat line, but his job is to clog up holes up the middle and open things up for the linebackers behind him. Shannon was third on the team in total stops last year, according to Pro Football Focus. Shannon was able to move a lot of bodies on the offensive line, and potentially losing him for the season certainly hurts Iowa.
However, this defensive line group is fairly loaded, and Iowa also returns another multi-year starter upfront in Logan Lee. With Shannon out, the names to watch that will line up next to Lee are Yahya Black, Aaron Graves, and Jeremiah Pittman. Black is listed as the starter and has been a household name in spring ball the last couple of years, but needs to stay healthy. Of the group, Graves might be primed for the biggest breakout campaign. Graves had five tackles for a loss and three sacks a year ago as a true freshman in a limited role but is expected to take on a lot more snaps this fall, especially with Shannon out. Look for Graves to have a high snap count on Saturday.
Senior University of Virginia transfer Nick Jackson is slated to start at middle linebacker. What has he done to step up into the starting role and what do you expect to see from him on the field Saturday?
Jackson was as productive as they came last season. Jackson led the ACC in tackles per game a year ago and was a big win for Iowa in the transfer portal this offseason as it beat out Oklahoma, LSU, and Auburn for his pledge. Jackson and Jay Higgins will have big shoes to fill with Jack Campbell and Seth Benson off to the NFL, but Iowa feels confident in what these two can do together with their strong bond and ability.
Jackson was brought to Iowa to be a starter and he has picked up things quickly with Iowa’s defensive scheme. Jackson is an instinctive player who can play the run and the pass and is also a very capable blitzer. Jackson’s experience will go a long way for Iowa and having a solid defensive line group will be a major plus, too.