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Matchup to Watch: Kent State’s corners vs. Iowa’s wideouts

The Hawkeyes offense has sputtered through two games against two strong secondaries

Syndication: HawkCentral Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Week 1: Ty Fryfogle vs. Iowa’s corners
Week 2: Charlie Kolar/Chase Allen vs. Iowa’s linebackers

The two Cyclone tight ends had just 5 receptions for a combined 36 yards while Iowa’s linebackers wreaked havoc all over the field with 17 combined tackles. They also combined for, arguably, the most important play of the game when the Hawkeyes scored on defense again to build a double digit lead.

Though the fumble was Breece Hall’s, it was a result of Jestin Jacobs treating Chase Allen like a ragdoll just before Jacobs dislodged it.

[Editor’s note: for more on Jestin Jacobs dominating Iowa State’s tight ends, be sure to check out the video breakdown on the emergence of Jacobs.]

After two games where points were at a premium, the #5 Iowa Hawkeyes (2-0) will take on the Kent State Golden Flashes (1-1) in a game where that presumably is not the case. KSU has allowed 34.7 points/game since 2018, head coach Sean Lewis’ first season. What better time than for the Hawks to show what they have out wide than now?

Through just two games, Iowa’s top four receivers have combined for 11 receptions and 95 of Spencer Petras 245 yards. While that is dismal, it’s exacerbated by the 18 wide receiver targets on Petras’ 44 non-throw away targets. Yeesh.

Kelton Copeland, Iowa’s WR coach, boiled it down to two areas in media availability this week: opportunities & making the most out of them.

In a broad “opportunities” sense, Iowa has run just 62 plays per game in two games this season with much of the second half focus on ... not making mistakes. So the Hawkeye playcalling has limited the throws down the field to maintain control of the ball and live to fight another day with a Tory Taylor punt. Perhaps nothing highlights how little risk is installed in Iowa’s passing offense as the fact that Petras has thrown just two interceptions since his three-interception day against Northwestern - 8 games & 213 passing attempts.

The Hawkeye offense is typically pretty low on opportunities - the last time Iowa has averaged over 70 plays per game was 2014 (73.2). Further, the Hawks have only thrown the ball 30+ times 23 of 49 games called under Brian Ferentz and just three with Spencer Petras as QB. Yet there are additional areas where Brian Ferentz can involve the wideouts.

Through two games, Tyrone Tracy, Jr. has two touches in the run game for 14 yards. This is down, slightly, from the more WR-forward rushing attack we saw in 2020 when wideouts combined for 1.5 rushes per game and two TDs. This is another area where it comes down to opportunities as Iowa has had just five red zone attempts - the most in the country is 17 while Iowa ranks in the bottom 20. Iowa has converted just two RZ visits into touchdowns.

Iowa has also limited its screen game, with 3-5 passes so far in the area of WR opportunities at/behind the line of scrimmage.

All of this is to set up that we will learn a lot about whether Iowa will try to ameliorate the square peg/round hole nature of the Hawkeye wide receivers or hammer/nail opponents as Kent State sets themselves up much more for the latter type of attack.

Extending well before this season, the Golden Flashes have struggled to contain rush offenses. They’ve allowed over 5 yards/carry across Lewis’ tenure, including 5.7 in two games this season and 6.2 (!!!) in their four-game 2020. So the run game will very likely be there.

Adding to the likelihood we see Iowa return to the ground game is the risk posed by Golden Flash corners. Through two games, Kent State has forced 7 interceptions (part of a 4.5-1 turnover differential) with 5 coming between cornerbacks Montre Miller & Elvis Hynes.

For a wide receiving corps who has had trouble gaining separation through two games against really good secondaries, they may find those issues extended against Kent State.

While Iowa hasn’t involved wide receivers as much as we’d like, certainly a fair amount is based on how the first two games have gone. Kent State could be a team which presses the staff into a little different game management by virtue of their potentially high-powered offense behind senior Dustin Crum. A quick Kent State touchdown, or two, could lead to the Hawkeyes playing left-handed with more passing.

The results of the first two games - against teams with preseason accolades - has largely allowed Iowa’s offense to be graded on the curve of “did the Hawkeyes win?” By entering the week 2-0 and its first top 5 September ranking in over 20 years, the bar is set higher. Over the next two weeks, the how will be as much or more important than the binary result against two Group of 5 opponents.

If the Hawkeye offense is able to diversify by involving the wide receivers against a solid secondary, the ceiling on this team will come into focus as one of the highest under Kirk Ferentz’s tenure. Should we see much of what we’ve already seen - “opportunistic” offense alongside incredible defense & special teams - it will be all-too-familiar territory for Hawkeye fans.