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KEYS TO THE GAME: IOWA HAWKEYES AT RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS

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Can the Artists Formerly Known as the Hawkeyes rediscover their identity at the start of B1G play?

NCAA Football: Purdue at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa travels to Rutgers this week for the start of B1G play. I felt weird about this game before the season began, and after last week I feel even weirder about it. I see this game going exactly one of three ways:

  1. Iowa comes out and asserts their will on a clearly weaker Rutgers team, piles on touchdown after touchdown, and regains the smash-mouth identity that we have all come to know and love.
  2. Iowa plays similar to how they played last week: sloppy, slow, and soft (I’m sure you can think of some other “s” words to describe it...). This game causes me to say things like “I don’t think I’m going to live to see the age of 25” (my birthday is on Sunday), but the Hawks manage to escape from Piscataway with a victory. We all complain about how poorly they played, but a win is a win and Iowa lives to see another day.
  3. Iowa plays similar to how they played last week and they lose. I have the worst birthday of my entire life (edging out the time I failed my driver’s test and also failed to qualify for the high school conference golf tournament in the same day) and decide to move to Canada to become a lumberjack.

Let’s hope for outcome #1. Heck, I’ll take outcome #2.

The Artists Formerly Known as Thunder and Lightning

If Iowa is going to win this game (and even be competitive for the rest of the season), they NEED to reestablish their dominance in the run game. This should be the Hawkeyes’ bread and butter, and until last week, it was. Unlike some people, I’m not going to overreact to a sample size of one and conclude that the Iowa rushing attack is suddenly absolute misery. Even Hawkeye Elvis has bad hair days. However, LeShun Daniels, Jr. and Akrum Wadley need to make some noise in this game after combining for a dismal 49 (forty-nine) total rushing yards last week. Going up against the 98th ranked rushing defense in the FBS should help. I understand that the Artist Formerly Known as Lightning may have been a bit banged up last week, but to only get handed the rock a total of four (4) times is not enough. It’s just not. Plain and simple. Let’s hope going back to Jersey to play in front of his hometown crowd makes Greg Davis and Kirk Ferentz more inspired to get him the ball.

NCAA Football: North Dakota State at Iowa Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Will the Real Iowa Defense please stand up?

Iowa’s defense gave up 239 (two-hundred and thirty-nine) yards rushing last week. They were manhandled by the Bizon (get ready for another week of Beth Mowins...), and to be honest, they haven’t looked all that great through three games this season. Even Iowa State managed to go for 126 yards on the ground, and Iowa State is, you know, terrible. Iowa plays several teams from here on out that like to win by running the football: Northwestern, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan, and Nebraska being the notables. This is a problem that needs to get solved, and it needs to get solved quickly. The Hawkeyes face a couple of different runners this week in Robert Martin and Janarion Grant. Martin, the Scarlet Knights power back, has already tallied 252 yards on the ground this season. Grant is a speedy and shifty wide receiver who typically gets about 5 carries per game and has managed to rack up 143 rushing yards on just 15 carries this season. This week will be a good indicator as to whether there is any hope for this Iowa front seven. I really, really believe deep down that there is. I think.

Control the Clock

Iowa managed to win the time of possession battle against the Cyclones in Week 2 (they held the ball for a whopping 32:08!!), but that has proven to be an outlier so far in the 2016 season. Look at the Hawkeyes’ time of possession numbers from Week 1 (vs. Miami Ohio) and Week 3 (vs. North Dakota State):

Week 1: Miami—36:21, Iowa—23:39

Week 3: North Dakota State—36:40, Iowa—23:20

That is abysmal. Iowa has an average time of possession in those two contests of 23:30. In other terms, the Hawkeyes have controlled the pace of the game approximately 39.2% of the time, while the opposing team is dictating the pace 60.8% of the time. You’re not going to win many football games that way. You win football games by staying in control, and controlling the clock is critical to the overall team performance. The lacking time of possession could explain the defensive struggles we’ve seen through the first three weeks of the season. If you were a 300 pound man, would you want to be forced to run around chasing a man who is 100 pounds lighter than you for an extra 7 minutes? Didn’t think so.

Extra Special Teams

Janarion Grant isn’t just a threat to the Hawkeyes while the Scarlet Knights are on offense. Grant has already returned one punt and one kickoff for a touchdown this season. Luckily, placekicker and punter Ron Coluzzi has been incredible for the Hawkeyes so far this season, posting 15 touchbacks on 19 attempts and, get this, opponents have not yet returned a punt against Iowa this season. That is a crazy statistic that tells me 1) Coluzzi is absolutely BOOMING punts deep into opponent territory (he ranks 29th in yards/punt) and 2) his punts have a phenomenal hang time. The Hawkeyes are going to face a number of great return men this season, starting this week with Grant. They’ll need to continue to perform well on special teams and avoid giving the Scarlet Knights a quick, momentum changing touchdown.

Protect the Package

There are so many flaws coming out of last week that I feel the need to add one extra “key” to the key chain this week. Iowa needs to do a better job of protecting C.J. Beathard. He sustained a shoulder injury last week and took a lot of unnecessary hits. LG Sean Welsh and C James Daniels are returning to the starting offensive line (thank the Lord) after sitting out the North Dakota State game with injuries. Their presence should spark the run game and help Beathard feel more comfortable in the pocket. I know Nathan Stanley did a really nice job filling in for Beathard for a few plays last week. I don’t want to discount how impressed I was by that. But this offense has its leader, and they need to keep him safe if this team is going to accomplish their goals.

The Prediction

I believe in Iowa. I believe that last week’s game is going to serve as a wakeup call. I believe this team has more fight in them than to fold after one bad loss. I believe in the ability of a bounce-back game to propel you forward.

Iowa is going to dominate this game from start to finish. They will win the time of possession battle for the second time this season. I see touchdowns coming from George Kittle (also known as George Skittles) and Matt VandeBerg on passes from C.J. Beathard, with Wadley and Daniels each adding touchdowns of their own on the ground. Although still not perfect, the defense will look much improved and will do a nice job containing the Rutgers rushing attacks. People will once again talk about this team as a B1G West favorite instead of acting like the world is going up in flames. I don’t have to move to Canada, so that’s good, too.

Prediction: Iowa 42, Rutgers 17

Go Hawks.