In last week’s individual matchup to watch, BoilerHawk picked Akrum Wadley and Joel Lanning to keep an on eye, mostly due to Lanning’s inexperience as a linebacker and Wadley’s ability to make defenders look silly. It ended up being the perfect choice, as the Iowa halfback left Lanning in his dust on his way to the game-tying score with time running out in the fourth quarter.
Luckily for the Hawkeyes, there’s another huge matchup that they should be able to exploit this coming weekend against the North Texas Mean Green. Nate Stanley has shown that he’s more than competent enough to lead the Iowa offense, while the Mean Green defense might not be able to stop anyone through the air.
North Texas Defense
It’s been a tale of two games for the Mean Green, as they demonstrated some defensive prowess in their Week 1 matchup against Lamar University. However, as you might expect, a lot of that might have to do with the fact that they were playing Lamar dang University of the Football Championship Subdivision*. North Texas only gave up 14 points and 266 yards of offense against the Cardinals, 180 of which came through the air on 41 attempts (4.4 yards per attempt). That’s how you stifle an offense.
*It should be noted that the following week, Lamar gained about 650 yards of total offense against UT-Permian Basin, although they’re a Division II team and it really doesn’t even matter at all. It simply comes out to a lot of yards against a lower-level team, although Iowa probably would gain 250 yards of offense before running it to the short side of the field over and over until the game ended 21-0. That’s neither here nor there, however.
Last week didn’t go as swimmingly for North Texas. Against their big rivals at SMU (and an opponent that is more their speed), the Mean Green surrendered 394 yards through the air and five touchdowns on their way to a 54-32 defeat. The Mustangs passed to the tune of almost 10 yards per attempt and a whopping 18 yards per completion, and North Texas had absolutely no answer for them. Wide receiver Courtland Sutton, a preseason All-American in his own right, torched them for a line of 8/163/4. Woof.
Nate Stanley and Co.
Enter the Swarm. No, the Hawkeyes probably won’t run 75 offensive plays like SMU did, they shouldn’t have to put the ball in the air 41 times, and they probably don’t have a receiver as talented as Sutton, but last week, Iowa showed that they have all the weapons necessary to have a dangerous passing game week in and week out. Multiple wide receiver options that can break a play? Check. A big-bodied tight end that can get behind the defense? You know it. Multiple running backs who can catch the ball out of the backfield? No doubt.
I’ve stated it elsewhere, but Iowa had just thirteen players record a catch in 2016. Against Iowa State, Nate Stanley completed a pass to nine different players - three tight ends, three wide receivers, two halfbacks, and a fullback. Stanley has shown he’s not afraid to trust all the different weapons at his disposal, and there are still a few more he hasn’t completed a pass to yet. If he shows a willingness to keep spreading the ball around as he continues to settle into the starting quarterback job, it’s going to be hard for a team like the Mean Green to stop the passing attack.
What could be the biggest factor in how well Iowa’s passing game fares against North Texas is, of course, the running game’s performance. We’ve seen it time and time again, particularly in the past year, where teams must respect the Hawkeye ground game and as a result, Iowa sees a lot of loaded defensive fronts. Should Iowa establish the running game early (and it’d be foolish to think they won’t be able to), there will be favorable matchups on the outside throughout the afternoon. It’ll just be Nate Stanley’s job to make sure he puts the ball where he needs to and for the pass-catchers to do the rest.
This is a bit of a tangent, and it goes back to Stanley’s use of many different targets, but think about this - Matt Quarrells, Adrian Falconer, Devonte Young, Max Cooper, and Brandon Smith haven’t had a reception yet, and they’re likely to see the field at some point this season. Ferentz has said as much about Quarrells and Cooper, Brandon Smith has already played some snaps, and the other two are likely to play just based on the idea that they’ve been here. Not all of these guys will see a ton of playing time, and it’s possible that none of them see significant snaps in 2017, but that’s an insane amount of weapons that could be called upon any given Saturday. If and when Iowa puts this game out of reach this weekend, it’ll be telling to see who comes off the bench in garbage time and who stays glued to the pine.
All of this is to say that Iowa should be able to torch the North Texas defense through the air on Saturday. It probably won’t happen, but the Hawks have a good chance at matching the 62 points they scored against the Mean Green just two years ago. It should be fun.