After what was essentially a four game non-conference season, the #14 Iowa Hawkeyes (4-0, 1-0) enter begin their Big Ten season in earnest in a matchup against the #19 Michigan Wolverines (3-1, 1-1). The Hawks enter as the higher ranked team...what a world!
While the conference season will slam on the gas pedal this weekend, it will include the return of perhaps the most important player along the Hawkeyes’ offensive line: Alaric Jackson. The redshirt junior tackle went down quickly when his leg was rolled in Iowa’s first game against Miami (OH) and has yet to see the field since. As such, it’s easy to forget what he’s capable of:
In the above play, he flows initially to the right before latching onto the blitzing Bulldog and affording Nate Stanley a clean pocket. Will he be as quick on his feet in his first game of the season?
The next play, also from the Outback Bowl win, shows more traditional pass blocking:
He appears matched up with sixth round draft pick, Gerri Green, and while he probably gets away with a holding here, he is in lockstep with the quicker Green and prevents him from gaining a single inch in his endeavor to Nate Stanley.
While the Green comp for Kwity Paye might be obscure as 6’4” speed rushers (Paye has ~20 lbs on Green at 277). Green finished his senior season with 7 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks - vs. 5.5 and 2 - yet had just one assisted tackle against the Hawkeyes. Though Paye’s 2018 was not quite as productive as Green’s he’s nearly matched those numbers through just 5 games in 2019: 5 TFLs and 2 sacks. Michigan will also run a defense heavy on blitzing like the MSU which poses it own set of problems along the line of scrimmage.
One of those problems is that Paye might not always be faced up against Jackson. With Chase Winovich in 2018, defensive coordinator Don Brown lined the two up all over the field, evidenced by Paye’s highlight reel:
Against Michigan State (starting ~3:30) he is featured on Michigan’s right side and shows an ability to shirk larger blockers and demonstrates solid pursuit in both the run and pass game. He also shows a relentlessness throughout the tape, though that is probably expected in highlight reel settings.
If there’s one thing to note about Paye, his highest statistical accumulations in his career have come against Rutgers, Army, and Indiana. Summarized best by Matt Millen, (“I can’t tell whether this is great play by Michigan or poor play by Rutgers.”) this is an opportunity for him to prove himself against one of the best in the conference after failing to break through against Wisconsin.
But really, this is about Jackson. He was the talk throughout much of the week, as Iowa returns a top three B1G lineman in pass and run blocking, according to Pro Football Focus. For the Hawks to be the best team they’re capable of being, they need their best player on the field.
A.J. should be one and if Saturday is a positive step, it bodes well for Iowa’s season writ large.