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KEYS TO THE GAME: IOWA HAWKEYES VS. MIAMI REDHAWKS

What to watch for in the Hawkeyes’ Week 1 matchup with the Miami Redhawks

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Iowa vs Michigan State Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Happy holidays Hawk fans!! It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Iowa football is back and (hopefully) better than ever. It’s finally time to brush the preseason garbage aside and focus on the Hawkeyes’ Week 1 matchup with the Miami Redhawks.

The last time these two teams played was back in 2003, when Ben Roethlisberger and Miami paid a visit to Iowa City, a visit which later prompted one of the greatest NFL Countdown features of all-time.

Since then, things have unfortunately taken a turn for the worst in Oxford, Ohio. Miami finished the 2015 season with a 3-9 record (2-6 in the MAC conference). Chuck Martin is entering his third season as head coach of the Redhawks, and while they have shown improvement in his first two seasons, there aren’t many players worth watching on the current Miami roster, as I pointed out the other day. While they are looking to take another step forward, there is no doubt that Iowa has an advantage over Miami at virtually every position on the field. Quarterback play and a faulty defense have been Miami’s crutch in the past, allowing over 32 points per game last season, while only managing to score 19. The Pants contributor Rob Donaldson broke down the Redhawks and thinks Desmond King and the Iowa secondary should have a field day despite the fact that Miami’s quarterback, Billy Bahl, has possibly a top-10 football name of all-time.

This game isn’t going to be close. This week is less about how Iowa matches up against the opponent and more about finding out what the identity of this Hawkeye team is going to be. We know what we have in Beathard, King, Jewell, VandeBerg, and most of the other returning starters from last season. But what tools does Iowa have in it’s toolbox?

Make Plays or Die

“Explosive plays are OK. If we get a few of those, I’m alright with that. We haven’t seen enough of them in camp, so maybe we’ve got a few that we’re saving for the season. I hope we are.” – Kirk Ferentz

You don’t like Kirk Ferentz when he’s sassy.

If this team is going to go anywhere, they need to have a couple playmakers. Iowa will have a hard time replacing their deep threat, Tevaun Smith. To be fair to the new guys, it can’t be easy having to face Desmond King (and even Greg Mabin) in practice on a daily basis. Smith was a huge asset for the Hawkeyes in 2015. I’m not saying he was Randy Moss or anything, and I’m not saying he was even one the best receivers in college football, but he was good enough to stretch the field, help open up the run game, and give me the best moment of my entire life at the B1G Championship Game.

Another notable playmaker from the 2015 team, Jordan Canzeri, is off playing in the Japan League. Iowa will miss his presence. Again, not that Jordan Canzeri was Bo Jackson, but he played a pivotal role in the success that Iowa had last season.

So who is in the running to replace these guys? We’ve heard positive things about wide receiver Jay Scheel since he was recruited as a 4-star athlete out of high school. Scheel redshirted in 2014 and battled injuries last season. Despite Jermanic Smith seeing (limited) playing time in 2015, Scheel managed to earn the starting nod for Saturday’s game. He has decent size (6’1”, 195 lbs.) and above average speed. If he stays healthy, he could prove to be a difference maker. He is the newcomer I am most excited to watch on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Big Ten Championship-Iowa vs Michigan State Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The other guy who gets me giddy is Akrum Wadley. I think Wadley has a chance to make a big leap in 2016. He’s finally at the playing weight that the coaches wanted, has good speed and agility, and he can actually hold onto the football now!!!! Greg Davis finally figured out that Wadley could be a weapon in both the run and pass game toward the end of last season. If Iowa chooses to make him a threat for both, he could have a huge year.

Iowa Runs on Duncan

OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration. We all know that Beathard is what makes this Iowa team click (You go, we go, C.J.). But Iowa isn’t going to have another magical season (or even another run at the B1G title) without winning some close games. At a school like Iowa, a good kicker can make or break a season. I have seen Iowa lose a game because of a missed extra point. I know Marshall Koehn somehow managed to miss seven extra points last season, but if he doesn’t boot a 57-yard field goal as time expires, Iowa doesn’t beat Pittsburgh, the College Football Playoff is never even a possibility, and we are all deprived of the greatest college football season of our lives.

Koehn is potentially going to be tough to replace. The common thought coming into fall camp was that the battle for starting kicker was going to come down to Mick Ellis and Miguel Recinos, both of whom already had limited game experience. I’m pretty sure the only people who thought that somebody could walk on to the football team as a freshman in June and earn the starting kicker job before the end of fall camp are….nobody. I don’t even think Keith Duncan’s own mother thought that was possible. But here we are: True freshman walk-on Keith Duncan (not to be confused with Duncan Keith) is the starting kicker for your Iowa Hawkeyes!! It’s possible that my most nervous moment in this game will come the first time that Keith Duncan lines up a field goal. It’s the fear of the unknown. He might be the next Nate Kaeding. He might look like Blair Walsh in below zero temperatures trying to win the Vikings a playoff game. Right now, Keith Duncan is like a box of chocolates—we just don’t know what we’re going to get.

While we’re talking about freshmen…

A Few Good (Fresh)men

I’m still not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that the two-deep listed a total of 14 freshmen in either a starting or backup spot. Some of the redshirt freshmen were on the radar during spring ball. Redshirt freshman Adam Nelson has managed to climb even with his twin brother (but not actually his brother) Matt Nelson for the starting spot at defensive end. Brady Ross made his way from scout team linebacker last season to potentially the starting fullback.

Of the 14 freshman on the two-deep, eight of them are also true freshman. The talk throughout fall camp has been that anywhere from five to 10 of the true freshman on the roster could see the field this fall, an unusually high amount in the Ferentz era. Wide receiver Devonte Young, who has impressed the coaches with his maturity and athleticism, is slotted to backup Riley McCarron. Cedric Lattimore will almost certainly see the field at defensive tackle, with defensive line running a bit thin for the Hawkeyes. Amani Jones and Kristian Welch have each earned backup roles at different linebacker positions. Levi Paulson (who actually has a twin brother) and Brett Waechter could both see action on the offensive line, another fairly thin area for Iowa. While the secondary for Iowa is a strength, defensive backs Amani Hooker and Michael Ojemudia will likely see the field.

My hope is that the starters can take control of this game by the end of the first half so these guys can see significant playing time. But I’ve also personally witnessed Iowa drop home games to Central Michigan and Northern Illinois...so there’s that.

Quarterback Controversy

Is it even possible to have a controversy over who should be the backup quarterback?? Apparently it is, as it has been revealed over the course of the past couple of weeks that true-freshman Nate Stanley is challenging redshirt sophomore Tyler Wiegers for the backup quarterback spot. It’s one thing for Keith Duncan to arrive on campus and show he can kick a football. It’s a whole other ballgame when a true-freshman steps foot into the Hansen Performance Center, picks up the playbook, and impresses the coaching staff enough in two months to pull even with a guy who has spent over two full years in the program. Is this concerning? Exciting? Terrifying?

Forgive me for being the one to point this out, but Iowa is one bad Beathard slide away from total chaos ensuing. C.J. has admitted that it’s uncomfortable for him, and that he even broke his hip in a little league baseball game while trying to slide. If the Football Gods really hate Iowa (and me) so much that they would ever knock Beathard out of a game, which backup quarterback is going to lose his headset? If Iowa gets up big tomorrow and Ferentz pulls the starters, is Wiegers or Stanley getting the gameday reps? Personally, I hope it’s Stanley. If he has shown as much upside as we are hearing, I think you burn the redshirt and get him on the field. The last true-freshman to see playing time at quarterback for Iowa was Drew Tate. The first game of Drew Tate’s freshman year was…at home against Miami Ohio!! We’ve come full circle!

Tate even admitted on the Iowa Huddlecast earlier this week that his limited game action as a freshman elevated his game for his standout sophomore season:

“If the guy is good enough to be the backup now, he needs to play now…When I got into spring my first year, I was so much further ahead of (Jason) Manson in the competition, because I had the reps in the fall.”

I’m no expert, but I think Drew Tate’s career turned out OK (he was the First Team All-B1G quarterback his sophomore year). I hope Iowa gets up big tomorrow, and if they do, I hope we see Nathan Stanley get his first appearance in a Hawkeye uniform.

The Prediction

Not even the Miami coaching staff thinks this is a good matchup for them. I see LeShun Daniels plowing into the endzone for the first score of the game. Akrum Wadley will add another touchdown on the ground, and Beathard will connect with Jay Scheel for a touchdown through the air. Desmond King intercepts Billy Bahl (still a great name) two three four five times. Keith Duncan will tack on two field goals to give the Hawks a 20-0 lead at half. Iowa will continue to dominate the second half and is able to scratch the fans’ collective itch by giving the young guns plenty of action in the fourth quarter. Beathard eventually gets pulled from the game, and the Kinnick faithful erupt as the future of Iowa football, Nate Stanley, takes the field for the first time as a Hawkeye.

Final score: Iowa 37, Miami Ohio 10

Go Hawks.