It’s that time of year again: I crack open my trusty laptop which still has Yahoo! as the default search engine and begin the football previews. Up next are the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. The last time these two met, Mark Emmert referred to the punting matchup as such:
.@MarkEmmert in the press box just now: "These punters are dealing. It's like Koufax vs. Marichal."— Chad Leistikow (@ChadLeistikow) September 7, 2019
Who: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (New Brunswick, NJ; Big Ten Conference)
Head Coach: Greg Schiano (76-81 at Rutgers, 8-14 since rehire)
What: Iowa’s first road game of the season
When: September 24th, 2022; 11a God’s Time
Where: SHI Stadium, Piscataway, NJ
Why: Because Iowa & Rutgers are permanent crossover opponents for the next six years (unless the Big Ten moves to divisionless football before then)
11th bowl game: Even though it was due to a late COVID drop out, the Scarlet Knights appeared (and lost big) in their 11th bowl game. 10 of them have come since Greg Schiano’s initial hire, with him being the head coach for 7 of them.
6.9 yards: The difference between the 120th (Rutgers at 310.8) and 121st (Iowa at 303.9) offenses from 2021. The Hawks outpaced them by 3.7 points/game, a difference almost exclusively attributable to non-offensive scores (6 TDs & 2 safeties by my count - 3.3 points/game).
3rd senior season: Presumed starting QB Noah Vedral is going to be playing in his sixth overall season, the third classified as a senior year. The COVID, redshirt, and transfer rules have me tied in knots. He’s posted a 16:15 TD:INT ratio in his 20 games at Rutgers with a 60% completion percentage.
348 scrimmage yards: Shameen Jones is the number one option out wide for the Scarlet Knights but accumulated just 334 receiving yards in his second senior season. Yes, he’s also classified the same way as Vedral. Lotta experience on this squad even if the stats are ... underwhelming.
Adam Korsak (#94, P, 6th yr, 6’2”, 185 lbs): Let’s remember a video:
So happy Jordan put that together all these years later.
Anyways, Adam Korsak is an absolute iron man of a punter for Rutgers, punting 6.83 miles in his four year career. Last year he was the main reason they set an NCAA season record for net punting at 45.25 yards/punt. The man flips fields and honestly can keep the Scarlet Knights in a game (or at least keep it from getting WAYYY out of hand) singlehandedly, like he did three years ago in Iowa City.
Aaron Young (#4, RB, Junior, 5’10”, 200 lbs): With Isiah Pacheco plying his trade in Kansas City, Young refills his void as the lead back. He selected Rutgers over 8 other Big Ten teams and a smattering of SEC schools in the class of 2019. Last season he led them with 6 total touchdowns, and in his freshman season, led them in all-purpose yards with 823, buoyed by his kick return yardage.
He’s a multi-talented back, with 50 career receptions to his name and the above highlight video shows a nice blend of strength and quickness, with an ability to operate in space. The question will be whether there are enough holes to run through for Young. No Rutgers back averaged more than 4 yards/carry last season as opponents were able to key on the run.
Mohamed Toure (#8, DL, Junior, 6’2”, 235 lbs): The back-to-back leading sack man for Rutgers has put together a nice career as an undersized defensive lineman, accumulating 9 sacks and 70 tackles the last two seasons.
Best case: Iowa is able to battle Rutgers to a draw in the punting/return game, which allows them to operate outside of the shadow of their own goal posts for much of the game. Iowa’s size upfront on both sides of the ball wears down the Scarlet Knights and cruises to an easy victory in front of a sleepy Jersey crowd.
Worst case: The Hawkeyes enter New Jersey without having their punt returner sorted out, an issue which comes to bear as Iowa struggles fielding punts, including a muff which allows Rutgers an easy score. They never generate momentum which allows Rutgers speed to neutralize what Iowa is trying to do offensively and the game stays tight throughout, reminiscent of the last time Iowa played there. Unfortunately, late game heroics elude Iowa unlike Wadley’s go-ahead score in 2016 and the Hawkeyes leave Newark International Airport with a loss in their baggage.
Can Iowa get up for this game? Since the conference expanded in 2014, Iowa has played 14 games in the Eastern time zone. They’ve left the first quarter scoreless in six of those contests. Some of it is certainly opponent adjusted - think your Penns State, your Michigans. Then there are other ones where Iowa just can’t seem to get out of their own way like Purdue 2020, Michigan State 2017, Rutgers 2016, and Maryland 2014. World beaters, they were not.
I think some of it is these games have relatively less juice than those played in the central time zone, at least from a road perspective, considering “official” rivalries associated with 2/3rds of Iowa’s annual opponents west of Indiana. Is it a confirmation bias of stats? (Iowa is 7-7 in applicable games) Is it a weird over-indexing on this opponent, location, and time/schedule slot being identical to a the last team these two faced off when I figured I would double dip with a fantastic beer-and-donut tasting depantsing of Rutgers, only for Iowa to leave by the skin of Akrum Wadley’s teeth?
Regardless, that Rutgers team is not the one Iowa will face this season. Greg Schiano knows that program like the back of his hand and knows what it takes to win there. It includes picking off teams who enter as road favorites who might not appreciate the long flight it takes to get there. He’ll have them ready. Iowa needs to be, too.