clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Matchup to Watch: Sutton Smith vs. Iowa’s Tight Ends

Iowa will need all hands on deck to slow down last year’s sack leader

Image credit clockwise starting with Sutton Smith: Jake Roth, Reese Strickland, Matthew Holst, Reese Strickland

I know what you’re thinking: “Iowa has no business being afraid of a MAC defensive end. His stats are inflated because of the competition he played. He’s tiny and Iowa should be able to push him around no matter who is at tackle.”

Wrong: Not only did he lead the country in sacks but he also led the country in tackles for loss. With 30 tackles for loss, nearly 50% of his overall tackles (63) came from behind the line of scrimmage.

Wrong: If his stats were a function of competition, why doesn’t an elite defensive end from a Group of 5 lead the nation every year in sacks? Because it is hard. The last guy to do it was Marcus Smith out of Louisville in 2013. Before him? Jerry Hughes at TCU in 2008. Khalil Mack only had 10.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss his senior year.

Wrong again: the converted running back was in the process of being recruited by top end schools before a broken hand kept him out of the summer camp circuit. The same summer camp circuit which saw Oliver Martin’s profile rise from little known three star to coveted four star. Only Northern Illinois offered so he took it. As for his size, it’s arguably his greatest asset, as he’s been able to maintain his speed while possessing a lower center of gravity which can knock opposing linemen on their heels.

His highlights from last year speak volumes.

His mouth also speaks volumes. In the linked piece above, he talked plenty of junk which Coach Doyle took note of:

While I don’t possess @sammmidd’s confidence, I do think Iowa will be ready to counteract his speed and tenacity. The guys to who can neutralize Smith and break the game open for Iowa are the tight ends: Noah Fant, T.J. Hockenson, and Nate Wieting.

Noah Fant will arguably be the least utilized against Smith, as he rotates out more often during running downs and often runs routes when he’s in there. In tandem with Hockenson, however, Iowa can leverage motions/formations similar to the Ohio State game to force Smith inside, where there is less room to work:


I also expect a lot of quick passes to both Fant more often outside:

Now, Stanley got lucky on this throw, but Fant was open from the jump. Quick passes will neutralize the pass rush and emphasize the disadvantage Smith does have - size - by forcing him into pass defending mode (though he had three last year).

In Hockenson, Iowa can really leverage him in the running game. Jordan Hansen’s video recap of the OSU game is like manna from heaven if you love great run blocking but my favorite is this quick hitter from Akrum Wadley:

Hockenson seals the edge and allows Alaric Jackson to take on the opposing tackle. Brady Ross sticks the MLB and frees up a straight-line run for Wadley through the line of scrimmage. I expect success out of these types of runs in Smith’s direction as they once again neutralize his ability to come from the weak side to make a tackle from behind.

Which brings me to Nate Wieting. For some reason, his wham block against Michigan stuck out to me from a couple years ago. The newly minted scholarship junior showed no fear as a freshman filling in for George Kittle:

His ability to function more as an h-back will be key to help Iowa’s troika of backs find lanes to run. That type of action also opens up behind the play type of throws to isolate TEs. The question is: does Brian Ferentz feel confident using less vanilla schemes during the first game of the year?

While Sutton Smith is a consensus all-American, Iowa is well-equipped to counteract his ability. It is imperative Iowa does everything it can to keep Smith’s paws off of Nate Stanley. With Iowa’s TEs, they offer a variety of ways to keep him guessing while yielding little in terms of strength.

If they’re clicking, Smith will leave with his tail between his legs and a bark bigger than his bite.