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Individual Matchup to Watch: Iowa vs. Iowa State

Can a Joel Lanning help keep Akrum Wadley in check?

NCAA Football: Northern Iowa at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

I’ll be honest, in my first crack at selecting an individual matchup to watch, I got cute. Now, maybe I’ll get cute again this season but not this week against this team. It’s so freaking clear what the matchup should be I’m not going to toy around with it.

Joel Lanning, Linebacker

You know Lanning as the Iowa State quarterback who went 8-20 for 86 yards, 0 TDs and 1 INT with 27 yards on 13 carries in last year’s loss to Iowa. Well, life comes at you fast as he practiced all spring at linebacker after losing the QB job to Jacob Park.

Credit to Matt Campbell for finding a place for one of his best athletes, but is it too little too late? In his first game action at linebacker in at least 4 years (I could not find any evidence he played in high school), he tallied 7 tackles and, according to the highlights, a couple QB hurries. A trip over to WRNL confirmed my sense that Lanning looked better as a blitzer than as a coverage guy or tackler. In a couple instances, he seemed to get really caught in the muck of the trenches.

Lanning’s ability to diagnose, react, and finish plays will be paramount to Iowa State’s success on defense.

Akrum Wadley, Running Back

Akrum Wadley wanted to be the workhorse back. Now he is. His first game of the season was as workmanlike a performance as he’s had at Iowa: 24 carries for 116 yards. The carries were the most since he ran 26 times against Northwestern in 2015 while the yards per carry (4.8) dipped below 5 for the first time in four outings. It was also the only time he hasn’t caught a pass since 2015.

With the limited yardage per carry, Wadley only had 3 runs over 10 yards and here they are:

All three of them display different aspects of Wadley’s game:

  • In the first, Wadley fixed a broken play. The left side of the line imploded and saw two defensive linemen in the backfield. The play is really broken open by the poor pursuit angles both linebackers take - 30 gets sucked into the play before Akrum’s cutback while 46 loses contain and falls victim to a Wadley juke.
  • The next clip shows a different run angle than we normally see from Iowa. The shotgun run is a distinct break from Iowa’s tendency during Greg Davis’s tenure and the personnel - 2 backs, 2 receivers, and 1 tight end - offers Wadley a lead blocker as his speed gets to the edge with ease.
  • In the last, his patience really takes over. He lets the linemen get out in front of him and sets up 30 again. Perhaps it’s oversimplifying it, because it is such an obvious passing down the linebackers are hardly in the box, but it shows the importance of Iowa having a credible passing game. The run blocking was easy and with someone like Wadley, the more space, the better.

In all three cases, the middle linebacker was unable to make a stop, by either his own fault or Wadley’s skill. I feel like it’s already a broken record, but it’ll be imperative on Saturday (and throughout the season) for Brian Ferentz to get Wadley the ball in a number of ways. Runs out of the backfield, shotgun, and slot put plays in Lanning’s mind to account for. From there, play action and jet sweep fakes can expose the middle of the field as Wadley is accounted for. I also expect a couple receptions from Wadley to get him in space against the slower Lanning.

With the strength of Iowa State’s defense residing on the perimeter, it becomes all the more important to attack their defense between the numbers. With Lanning facing his first FBS competition from this side of the ball, I expect his mind to be buzzing which will affect his speed on the field. But if he’s able to keep Wadley in front of him - a tall task - it will be a blow to Iowa’s game plan.