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FOUR FACTOR FRIDAY: IOWA VS ILLINOIS STATE

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An alliterative look a the keys to the game for Iowa vs. Illinois State

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Football. Finally. The first Four Factor Friday of the season. Ferentz will be taking the field in front of maybe a fraction of fans against an FCS foe. And we're frightened and fearful of failure. The frequent frustration of twenty fourteen has left us furious. But we'll fight, fight, fight for Iowa. And the Hawkeyes will finish on top.

The Linebackers

I was going through the exercise of thinking about the most important players on the team. There was the Morehouse top 45 and he collected others’ thoughts too. And my big take away from that was, why aren’t the linebackers higher? You can point to Jake Rudock’s penchant for checking down, or having a fullback play running back, but the reason Iowa lost 6 games last year was due to poor linebacker play. Iowa has had mediocre offenses before…a lot…like almost every year Kirk Ferentz has been here. But the defense…a good defense has been the staple of a good Iowa team.

And the linebackers are going to be tested out of the gate. Illinois State’s backfield is probably going to be every bit as good as any other backfield Iowa will face this season. Tre Roberson has come into Kinnick once and put up big numbers. And he’s only gotten better. He’s pretty comfortable sitting in the pocket, but can also extend plays and throw on the run. He put up crazy passing numbers last year (208/359 for 3,221 yards and 30 TDs). He’s also really good on the zone-read when the DE isn’t disciplined…because in space he can really make plays. Iowa usually plays the zone-read straight up with the DE staying home…but that’ll mean Roberson is handing off to excellent running back Marshaun Coprich.

We saw Iowa’s linebackers get scorched by talented running backs, both running and catching the ball, way too often last year. Coprich might not be Melvin Gordon, but he is still very good. He amassed 2,274 yards on the ground last year and averaged 6.1 yards per carry.

This will be a test for the linebackers. If they pass, Iowa wins.

Depth

If you hadn’t heard, it’s going to be hot tomorrow. Depth could be a factor. I don’t think there are too many games on the schedule this year that Iowa will have a decided advantage in depth, but this is one. Illinois State might have some studs in the backfield, a good DE and LB, and some former FBS players sprinkled throughout, but depth is not going to be their strength.

This year’s team has been compared to 2013…and that team made its living against the lesser foes on the schedule by pounding the ball over and over and over, with Weisman turning that approach into some really long game-sealing 4th quarter drives. If Iowa is able to establish a run game like that with LeShun Daniels and Jordan Canzeri, then I think the offense should be able to wear down Illinois State’s D and put the game away at the end.

The offensive line has some big question marks for sure. But I think the interior line will be fine and the tackles are big enough and strong enough to be powerful run blockers. The outside zone to the right might be a little bit more in favor this year than the left behind Scherff last year…but I think it can be successful.

All that talk about Special Teams

Illinois State is replacing its kicker and punter, so you’d think Iowa would have an advantage there. Marshall Koehn will probably continue to put balls into the endzone and leave little room for kick returns. He was solid at field goals last year and I expect that continue as well.

Punting, though…it has to be better. I think we’ll see Iowa break out the shield punt formation this year and hopefully that’ll solve the punt coverage problems. I expect a short leash on Dillion Kidd. If he shanks one, or can’t get anything going beyond 35 yards or so, I think Koehn will get his shot.

I think the return game is the more interesting part of the special teams units. Iowa is investing in special teams by using more starters in the return and coverage units. They are giving Desmond King a shot as the main returner. Let’s see what he can do. Ferentz has been defaulting to RBs as kick returners and receivers as punt returners for a while…which I think is the safe play. King could be a little bit more of a risk/reward play.

C.J. Beathard

The final factor had to be Beathard. He is the real wildcard. He only has one start to his name and really doesn’t have a huge resume. Don’t look at his career stats. Let’s just pretend that he has awesome every time he played. He has shown some incredible potential. He’s made throws that few QBs in Ferentz’s tenure would have made. But this is still his first real go as the guy.

I’m really interested to see how he is used this year and how much his gunslinger instincts kick in at game time. While Greg Davis might not call a lot of designed QB runs, Beathard is going to take off. He’s going to keep it on the zone-read (he’s shown that before). He’s also going to chuck it down the field. There have been rumblings out of practice that he threw very few interceptions (it was just one pick at one point). But when the adrenaline is pumping, is he really going to take the safe throw, or is he going to see Tevaun Smith streaking down the sideline and throw it up even if he isn’t really open? I mean, I think we want him to take chances and Iowa might have just enough talent at receiver to make plays.

Prediction

I’m nervous. Illinois State’s offense has all the ingredients that gave Iowa fits last year. But I’m going to believe that the Iowa coaching staff has started to correct the problems from last year that led to the defense getting shredded on the outside. I think the Hawkeyes will do enough to limit the Redbird’s rushing attack and that the secondary can withstand Roberson’s arm.

On offense I’m expecting a lot of pounding the ball with Daniels with Iowa trying to wear down Illinois State’s front seven. It might not lead to tons of points early, but as the game goes on, I think the field will start tipping in Iowa’s favor and we’ll see a late score that preserves a victory.

Final Score: Iowa 31 - Illinois State 24