Opponent: Maryland Terrapins (2-5, 0-3 B1G East, unranked)
Saturday, October 31, 2:30 p.m., Kinnick Stadium
Television: ABC/ESPN2 (coverage map here)
Kickoff weather: 50 degrees and holding steady with a significant chance of rain all day.
The Crypt Keeper: Hello, boys and ghouls! It's going to be braining on Saturdead afternoon, so leave your Halloween costumes at home if they can't get wet, otherwise you'll be stark graveing mad! Nyeahahahahahahah!
WHEN MARYLAND HAS THE BALL
Maryland had arguably its best offensive output of the season last week against Penn State's normally stout defense. Perry Hills is evidently the full-time starter at QB, and he's a marked step up from the disasterpiece theater that has been Caleb Rowe (12 interceptions on 91 attempts) this season. And yet, even for going 19-28 against PSU, Hills still threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles in the process. His best hope is to slow down Iowa's front seven by making it respect his running ability, but Iowa hasn't looked especially susceptible to mobile quarterbacks in their limited exposure to them thus far this season.
Look for Desmond King to match up against Levern Jacobs, who has been by far the main focus of the Maryland passing game this season. Jacobs (brother of fellow wideout Taivon Jacobs) has 26 catches on the year, as many as the next two leading receivers combined. He's not especially explosive, averaging only about 10 yards per catch, but he can wiggle free and keep the chains moving well enough to be Problem Number One for the Iowa secondary.
Maryland's got a pretty strong offensive line, and the Terps will likely (no, not Will Likely, we'll get to him later) put up the most rushing yards against the Hawkeyes since North Texas (?!) racked up 183 (?!?!) in Week 4. Hills is fast enough that he'll challenge Iowa's linebackers to keep the edge, but Desmond King and Greg Mabin have both been pleasantly enthusiastic tacklers in run support.
The Crypt Keeper: Sorry, Scaryland, but I don't think the quarterback Scary Chills will have a good game! If he's on the road and throwing the football, I guess you could say he's... passing away! Nyeahahahahahahah!
Wow. Just... wow.
The Crypt Keeper: Also I predict at least one interception by Ghosey Ghoul!
Yeah, I saw that one on Twitter on Monday.
The Crypt Keeper: Okay, I guess I'm getting lectured on originality by a guy who still makes Chapphell's Show references over a decade later!
Touché, dead man. Touché.
WHEN IOWA HAS THE BALL
After getting beaten up by a parade of strong defenses in the first half* of the season, the Hawkeyes find an unusually permissive opponent in Maryland, who rank a Hoosier-esque 104th in pass efficiency defense and have allowed 17 touchdowns through the air in seven games. Maryland's rush defense doesn't rank a whole lot better, but that's because opponents spend so much of the second half with a comfortable lead that continuing to pass wouldn't be sportsmanlike. The Terps only give up 4.04 yards per rush, 55th in the nation and only a hair behind Northwestern—and we remember what Iowa's ground game did to Northwestern. Hang on, I need a moment.
Okay, we're back.
Iowa's receiving corps will be as healthy as it's been all year, as Tevaun Smith (who played limited minutes in his first game back at Northwestern) is back to starting and Jake Duzey makes his first appearance on the depth chart, albeit at third string behind Henry Krieger Coble and George Kittle. The point is, he's there, and with Kirk Ferentz's penchant for situational usage of different tight ends, being a third-stringer means less at TE than at any other position on Iowa's depth chart. If the Iowa coaches made a point of listing Duzey, he'll see snaps. There's a bigger issue of rapport between C.J. Beathard and Duzey, as the Iowa QB probably hasn't had much practice time with his talented TE yet this year, but they can play their way into that over the next few weeks. At a minimum, Maryland's going to have to account for Duzey when he's on the field; he's a mismatch machine against slow LBs and smaller DBs.
Jordan Canzeri is still out with that nasty ankle injury he suffered at Northwestern; again, anything Iowa gets out of him before Thanksgiving is (I'm sorry) gravy (I'm actually not sorry at all). Akrum Wadley was a stone-cold beast at Northwestern, ripping off big runs at will, and Derrick Mitchell looked as good as he's ever been at RB as the second option. LeShun Daniels is back on the depth chart after spending several weeks out with an ankle injury, but he's listed at third team, so don't expect Iowa to depend on its Week 1 starter until we actually see it on the field.
Speaking of starters coming back from injury, LT Boone Myers is back on the depth chart but behind Cole Croston. You'd expect Myers to get back in the starting five if he's healthy, especially with RT Ike Boettger still out to an ankle injury, but the makeshift Croston-Daniels-Blythe-Walsh-Welsh line has been absolutely mashing, and Ferentz may have backed into his most effective and cohesive line here. Considering what a liability James Daniels was at RT and what a revelation he's been in his comfort zone at LG, the ability of Jordan Welsh to shift to RT and flourish has been invaluable for the Hawkeye line. There aren't a whole lot of offensive lines who could 1) sustain the offseason losses that Iowa did and 2) suffer two long-term injuries like Iowa did and still demolish good front sevens like Illinois and Northwestern. Seriously—this might be the single biggest reason Iowa's 7-0.
MLB Jermaine Carter Jr. is easily Maryland's most productive defender, even as a sophomore; if Wadley and Mitchell struggle to get going it's because Carter's wreaking havoc with the line (none of his seven tackles for loss are sacks). DE Yannick Ngakoue is also back and already has nine sacks to his name; odds suggest he'll get to Beathard at least once. So for as heroic as Iowa's offensive line has been, it's not in for a reprieve this Saturday.
All this suggests Iowa will be effective on play action and counters, and Brian Ferentz scorched Northwestern on exactly that front two weeks ago. In fact, here's a complete list of opponents against whom Iowa has been unable to establish its run game this year: [ERROR: NULL SET]
Beathard can (and routinely does) punish mediocre secondaries. Iowa's offensive line practices against the third-best rushing defense in the nation, and it has gotten results in two straight games against plus-level opponents. If Iowa can't run the ball effectively, Maryland's defensive front is playing the game of its life. With Randy Edsall recently ousted, the Terps are under the control of Mike Locksley, a great recruiter but a guy who was an abject disaster as the head coach at New Mexico.
Let's just say it: with big-play capability at QB, RB and WR, Iowa should break several drive-changers this weekend against Maryland this weekend.
The Crypt Keeper: Iowa's OL needs to protect C.J. Deathard and Redrum Wadley! I'm predicting big things from wide receivers Graveaun Smith and Riley McScareron!
*I say "first half" because Iowa's playing at least 14 games this year, DEAL WITH IT.
The weird season of Marshall Koehn continues, as Iowa's mercurial kicker has now missed more extra points (3) than field goals (2) on the season. Meanwhile, Maryland kicker Brad Craddock (his friends call him Braddock) (or they should, anyway) is having another solid year on the boot* and he's Koehn's equal.
Cornerback WIll Likely is probably the Big Ten's best return specialist and certainly the strongest weapon Iowa has faced in this situation since Demornay Pierson-El incinerated the Hawkeye defense last season. We can make mountains of "will likely" jokes, but at the end of the day, he's single-handedly capable of ruining Iowa's undefeated season, so... the jokes Will Likely wait until he and his team are off the radar for good—oh dammit. Siri, delete this paragraph.
*I'm just going to pretend "on the boot" is a common euphemism in England for how soccer players perform professionally. There is no way this is true.
Iowa 31, Maryland 19
The Crypt Keeper: I predict Dieowa defeats the Scareapins by the gore of thirty-gore to fourspleen! Nyeahahahahahahah!