Rutgers joined the B1G conference in 2014 after the dissolution of the old Big East conference the prior year. The Scarlet Knights had enjoyed some success toward the end of the Big East’s run, even having a puncher’s chance at the conferences BCS bowl bid in 2012 (which they squandered with a heartbreaking loss to Louisville in the season’s final game), but have seen relatively little success in the B1G. Greg Schiano’s return has the Scarlet Knights on the upswing in year 3, but still on the outside looking in as contenders in the East.
Iowa and Rutgers have played 3 times, with Iowa winning all three games including last year’s 27-10 win in Piscataway (imagine that, Iowa scoring 27 points in a B1G football game, what a concept). This year’s Scarlet Knights are 6-3 coming off a loss to Ohio State where they led at half. Unfortunately for Rutgers, Gavin Wimsatt threw a pick-six (his 5th INT on the season versus 8 TDs) early in the 3rd and then Marvin Harrison Jr. decided to show up in the 4th quarter and snag two TD passes to salt away the win. Wimsatt has thrown a pick-six in each of Rutgers 3 losses (Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio State), so let’s hope Iowa can add another notch in that streak on Saturday.
Saturday’s game in Kinnick is, statistically speaking, the toughest game left on the schedule, and one of the toughest tests this season for a struggling Iowa offense as Rutgers defense is, well, very good.
Let’s take a look a the numbers.
Iowa - 225.3 ypg, 18.4 ppg
Rutgers - 330.9 ypg, 26.8 ppg
Obviously the numbers here are not in Iowa’s favor, but when it comes to offense in 2023, they rarely are. Rutgers is a run first offense (77/23 in terms of play selection) with a #1 RB and a QB that are both averaging more than 4.5 ypc. Kyle Monongai has three straight games with more than 100 rushing yards and is averaging 5.4 ypc on the season. Wimsatt has run for more than 40 yards in 3 of Rutgers’ last 5 games, including a 143 yard explosion against Indiana, and is averaging 4.8 ypc. This is a potent ground game that is averaging 184.7 ypg on the ground, making it the best rushing offense Iowa has seen so far this year.
When it comes to throwing the ball, Rutgers is nearly as bad as Iowa. Wimsatt is completing just 49% of his passes, but throwing the ball isn’t his primary responsbility in this offense. Additionally, his 5 INTs is a tad misleading, as 2 of them came against Michigan State, a game that Rutgers won. Yes, 60% of those INTs have proved costly, but 2 of them came in games that NO ONE expected Rutgers to win.
I’m not going to spend any time rehashing the details of Iowa’s offense here, it’s yet to have been an advantage in B1G play and it’s hard to imagine that changing in the course of a week, especially with the OL banged up.
Advantage - Rutgers
Iowa - 4.1 ypp, 13.7 ppg
Rutgers - 4.5 ypp, 17.9 ppg
Rutgers is the first of two top 20 defenses that Iowa will face in the next 3 weeks, which does not bode well for an Iowa offense that has struggled to put points on the board against mediocre to bad defenses. Rutgers is allowing just 3.7 ypp on the ground, which could make for tough sledding if Brain cannot figure out a way to get the passing game going. I fully expect Rutgers to deploy an awful lot of cover zero with 8-9 in the box until Iowa proves they can move the ball through the air.
Iowa’s run defense has been fairly stout this season, allowing just 3.3 yards per run and allowing just 1 rushing touchdown. It has, also, outperformed Rutgers in terms of INTs (8 to 6) but not in forcing fumbles (11 to Rutgers 14) and Rutgers has fumbled the ball just 4 times all season (Deacon Hill alone has put the ball on the deck 3 times in the last 3 games), so Phil’s crew has it’s work cut out for them. That being said, Rutgers doesn’t have a particularly dangerous set of receivers, and isn’t going to throw any more often than it needs to, so if they can keep Monangai under wraps and force Wimsatt to throw the ball more than usual, they could definitely get Rutgers out of their comfort zone and force Wimsatt into making the kind of mistakes that cost them against Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio State.
Advantage - Iowa (by a nose)
Iowa - 47.4 ypk
Rutgers - 40.7 ypk
Tory Taylor had an off day in Chicago, averaging a season low 39.0 ypk with one punt being returned 23 yards to set up Northwestern’s only score of the day (on the drive immediately following Iowa’s best GL stand since 2006). Everyone has a bad day and it’s fair to assume that Tory will rebound in the friendly confines of Kinnick Stadium. Rutgers, on the other hand, lost fellow Aussie Adam Korsak to graduation after 2022 and has seen their ypk average decline by nearly 10%.
Advantage - Iowa
Iowa - 77.8% FGM, 6.4 ppg
Rutgers - 78.6% FGM, 6.6 ppg
Drew Stevens went 1-2 in Wrigley, but the 53 yarder he missed was as good a kick as you can make without putting it through the uprights. His game winner was about as beautiful a kick as I can recall and the look on the face of the NW drum major that caught it made my day. Rutgers’ Jai Patel is having a pretty good season of his own, hitting 84.6% oh his FGAs and missing just one PAT. In a battle between two top 20 defenses, S/T’s could decide this game and both of these kickers are pretty damn good.
Advantage - Push
Iowa - 50.9 ypg, 1 TD
Rutgers - 37.6 ypg, 0 TD
Rutgers primary returner, Rashad Rochelle, is averaging 55 yards per return this season, though as a team they’ve only returned 2 KOs, so he can be dangerous, but given Drew Steven’s TB%, odds are he won’t get many opportunities. Rochelle is also Rutgers’ punt returner, but his averages drop significantly there (2 ypr), and with Iowa’s punt coverage, I don’t see that average improving. He’s dangerous nonetheless especially if Tory doesn’t recound and kicks some line drives.
Cooper DeJean is coming off his second game in a row having a long punt return called back on a penalty, last week it was a terribly weak block in the back call, and is likely itching to find the endzone again. Kaden Wetjen looked ever so close to breaking a return last week and with his speed, I feel like it’s only a matter of time before he takes one to the house.
Advantage - Iowa
This game is probably going to be very close and won by the team that comes out on top of the turnover margin. Iowa hasn’t been creating a lot of turnovers this season, but Gavin Wimsatt may be the cure for that particular ailment, especially if Iowa can force him to beat them through the air. On the other hand, Deacon Hill hasn’t exactly been the picture of ball security in his 3.5 games at the helm and nearly added 2 TOs to his INT on Saturday with an awful fumble that Iowa was lucky to recover and a terrible throw out of a sack that should have been picked.
Two great defenses and two bad offenses playing in front of a crowd dominated by Black and Gold, kind of feels like deja vu. Let’s hope we get the same outcome as last week.
Numbers to Watch
2 - Gavin Wimsatt isn’t on anyone’s Heisman watchlist, but he is the kind of QB that, historically, has given Iowa fits. He’s only completing 49% of his passes this season, but he’s always a threat to run the ball and is relied upon to turn broken plays into something positive with his legs. He has a propensity for throwing the pick-six, but is only averaging about 20 throws per game, so the Doughboyz will have limited opportunities to make hay off his mistakes. I haven’t watched much Rutgers film this year, but he gives me very strong Dan Persa vibes and that scares me.
5 - Kyle Monangai is having quite the season so far and will be looking to cross the 1K yard mark Saturday in Iowa City. He’s not much of a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, but can’t be ignored in those situations. He ran for 159 yards (6.6 ypc) against a very good OSU defense last week, so keeping him contained is definitely priority #1 for Phil’s crew.
18 - Iowa has sacked opposing QBs 18 times this year. Rutgers has allowed their QB to be sacked 18 times this year. Iowa’s pass rush has looked much improved the last few weeks, and hopefully that will continue even without Noah Shannon getting back in uniform. The Rutgers OL isn’t winning the Joe Moore award anytime soon so hopefully Black, Craig, Evans, and Graves can get home this week or at least put enough pressure on Wimsatt to force some bad throws into the teeth of a hungry Iowa secondary.
100 - Iowa has rushed for more than 100 yards in 3 of their last 4 games (all wins). Since 2018 Iowa is 18-6 in games where they rush for 100+ yards. The OL is starting to see some injury attrition and we all know that the passing game is not going to get this team back to Indy, and Brain is going to have to figure out a way to use the passing game to open things up against Rutgers’ front 7. If Iowa can crack 100 yards on the ground against this defense, Iowa should be able to send the Scarlet Knights back to Piscataway with an L.
Well, there you have it, the numbers put this game at pretty even odds and the sharps have Iowa at -1 with an over/under of 28.5 (setting yet another record for lowest predicted point total). ESPN gives Iowa a 62% of victory going into Saturday, so they seem to be expecting that the Iowa defense will be able to shutdown Rutgers much superior offense. I think we all hope that they’re right.
As Always, GO HAWKS!