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Matchup to watch: Spencer Petras vs. Nevada’s pass defense

If there’s one thing the Wolf Pack do well on D, it’s pick off opponents

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South Florida v Houston Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

You know the stats. I ran through them in this space last week and they didn’t get any better for the Iowa Hawkeyes against Iowa State. It was another game of an inverted TD:INT ratio, sub-50% completion, and general stasis on the offensive side of the ball.

“Absentee offense” is the description I’ve landed on for this iteration of Iowa football. I don’t even think this meme does what we’re seeing unfold justice:

What I would do for a goofy dragon right now. At least it’s a dragon. Iowa had it in 2004 & 2009 when they had quarterbacks who could pull rabbits out of the hat. Sure, the magic was sometimes necessary as a result of some of those positions the quarterback would put Iowa in. (looking at you, Rick-Sixes) but at least there was some amount of confidence which existed in that unit.

Of course, the issues run deeper than quarterback. Teams are keying on formations & personnel & line movement more than ever. Opponents aren’t afraid of getting beat over the top so they overwhelm Iowa’s run game. Fun stuff and no cavalry is coming by way of quarterback change. Maybe a healthy Keagan Johnson & Nico Ragaini, who have practiced each day this week, tilt the scales a bit, but Iowa needs better play from their QB1.

So where does that bring in the man wearing the South Florida jersey? Well, Bentlee Sanders, a transfer from USF, has been on an absolute tear in the early part of this season with four interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.

Sanders is a sixth year guy, with Nevada’s two other interceptors - Tyson Williams & Isaiah Essissima - playing in their fifth and fourth year, respectively. They are well schooled in this area so they will be prepared. These guys can turn a game on its head with turnovers, especially interceptions.

On the flipside...this bunch has given up an average of 27 points (82nd in the country) and a robust 300+ yards through the air. Teams have completed 63% of their passes against the Wolf Pack. FCS Incarnate Word put up 400+ passing yards in a 55-41 win over Nevada.

Iowa has not thrown the ball for more than 400 yards this century.

So we have a classic moveable object vs. stoppable force. Iowa enters the game as 23-point favorites and right now, it’s hard to envision them even scoring that total on offense. But if there’s a team where Iowa can get right, Nevada is it.

As long as Iowa is clean with the football.