Get Something Going in the Passing Game
The last we saw the Iowa passing game it was not good. Jake Rudock completed just 9 or 22 passes for 102 yards and threw an interception before he was injured. C.J. Beathard came in and was really not much better. That was the culmination of the 2013 offense, an offense that averaged just 23 points per game in conference play.
Yet overall the passing game was better at times and certainly better than anything from 2012. And the formula looks to be in place for another jump forward this year. The Hawks should be able to lean heavily on the run game again. I expect Iowa’s offensive line to eventually wear down UNI’s front seven and we’ll see some 90% run play drives in the second half to seal the win. Even two years ago, Iowa was able to do that (UNI was Mark Weisman’s coming out party).
There is also a returning starting quarterback who was pushed in the off-season by an intriguing backup. So Rudock should be better. He should also have more threatening targets this year, with more experience in the first wave of receivers and an infusion of redshirt freshmen talent behind that group. The passing game should be better.
But put me in the I’ll believe it when I see it bucket.
Figure Out the Back Seven
The defensive depth chart has a lot of "/"s on it. There is some uncertainty in the back seven, with only 2 starters returning in that bunch. I expect a decent amount of guys shuffling in and out against UNI -- testing different combinations and seeing how guys fare against real competition.
So the key for this group on Saturday is going to be to play smart and stay in position. UNI is returning about a million offensive starters and will be able to challenge Iowa in several different ways. David Johnson is an excellent running back and a threat in the passing game. Sawyer Kollmorgen is a decent QB and has all of his favorite targets from last year back. Then there is the wildcard, QB Brion Carnes. Carnes is kind of a Kain Colter-type -- he played QB for UNI some last year while Kollmorgen was injured, but he can also line up as a running back or a receiver. Don’t be surprised if both QBs are on the field at the same time and we see some sort of trick play out of that personnel. So the defense needs to be ready.
Exploit the Mismatches
UNI has an excellent tackle on each side of the ball (OT Jack Rummells and DT Xavier Williams), but across the lines, Iowa should be much, much better. The Hawkeyes should be able to take advantage of that with the right mix of running backs and running behind Brandon Scherff. The Panther’s weak spot on defense appears to be DE…right where Iowa can attack.
The tight ends could be difference makers too. UNI plays a 3-4 and the DE/LB hybrid guy will be lined up against the TEs often. I expect the TEs to be able to block him and out run him if he drops into coverage.
On defense, the biggest mismatch is probably right up front, but where Iowa might be able to lean the most, is on Desmond King. If King can take away a side of the field and with lock down man coverage, the rest of the back seven’s job gets a little easier.
Just Win and Move On
Best case scenario, Iowa is able to do whatever they want on offense and is able to stop the run and shut down anything UNI is trying to do when they're on offense. The game is over by halftime and Iowa can work on what it needs to -- the passing game, different personnel packages, a different QB, etc. But we've seen it all too often where that is not the case against teams Iowa should be able to roll.
So I don't want to see Greg Davis or (Phil Parker, I guess) getting too clever here. Run the ball (to the left please, pleeeaaasssse), use play-action effectively, stay on schedule, do all those good things, and just win.
I've been going back and forth between a 2009-like game and a 2012-like game tomorrow. I am still not confident that the offense can score enough for this to be a blowout, but I think they will be able to wear down UNI and start to pick up big chunks of yards on the ground as the game wears on. It might be a one score game halfway through the third quarter, before Iowa grinds out a couple of double-digit play drives, that eat the clock and end with Iowa winning by a comfortable margin.
Final score: Iowa 31 - UNI 16