IOWA CITY, Iowa - One bright spot in Iowa’s 27-14 loss to No. 4 Michigan was the emergence of Luke Lachey.
The sophomore tight end caught a career-best four passes for 84 yards Saturday, including the first touchdown catch of his college career. Lachey is quick to give credit for those 84 yards to No. 84, teammate Sam LaPorta.
“Sam’s a great player and they focus on him a lot, too,” Lachey said. “That just helps me get open.”
Iowa’s offense has struggled out of the gates. A big reason for that is a talented but inexperienced offensive line and injuries in the receiving corps. That has made it easier for teams to limit LaPorta. But with Lachey in the mix now, he’s an emerging option for quarterback Spencer Petras.
“Luke’s a really good player,” Petras said. “He’s grown significantly from last year. It’s clear that a lot of teams game plan to take Sam away, and I understand that. I thought (Lachey) played well. He’s just got to keep growing.”
Lachey, the son of former Ohio State all-American and NFL standout Jim Lachey, has had six of his nine catches this season in the last two games. He had eight catches for 133 yards last season.
“I can’t say we’re surprised,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said of Lachey’s growing role in the offense. “We’ve been watching him grow and develop. He’s a tremendous guy with a great work ethic and real good ability. It’s been fun to watch him grow. He’s playing really well. I think right now we have a pretty good tandem with him and Sam out there.”
Lachey and Petras connected for 26 yards on a seam route on Iowa’s second possession of the game. Four players later, Lachey got open on another seam route but Petras overthrew him.
The two connected for a 34-yard play in the fourth quarter and then Lachey caught a 5-yard touchdown pass from Petras in the closing seconds of the game.
“To make those plays today really gave us a spark and were great to see,” Ferentz said. “It’s great to see him help our football team moving forward.”
On Lachey’s 34-yard catch, he caught the ball in traffic, looked like he might emerge out of the grasp of several defenders and then was dragged down.
“I felt like I had a chance to score,” he said. “But we’ll take whatever we can get there. If it opens up, you’ve got to keep going.”
Lachey said that Saturday’s game gives him a great deal of confidence moving forward.
“Over time, doing the little things has really helped me out,” Lachey said. “Little things like figuring how to run a route better, and blocking better. I think that’s going to help me a lot. Watching and learning defenses will help me out.”
Lachey’s continued development will make teams have to scheme for two tight ends, not just LaPorta.
“That will definitely be nice when people respect it when we use two tight ends,” Lachey said.
More threats on the outside will make it easier for the run game to be productive. And more threats will give Petras more options than he had to start the season.
Nico Ragaini is rounding into shape after a foot injury that kept him out of the first two games and limited his effectiveness since. Brody Brecht is starting to make plays like Arland Bruce IV has all season.Diante Vines, out all season with a broken wrist, could return after the bye week Oct. 15. And if wide receiver Keegan Johnson can come back from a nagging hamstring injury, the offense should be better and start faster than it did Saturday against Michigan.
“I think we’re coming together,” Lachey said. “We’ve got better chemistry there. We’re following a plan. We’ve just got to execute it and bring it in the first half as well.”