Previewing The Enemy: Iowa Hawkeyes
No. 18 Iowa (6-1, 3-1 Big Ten) comes to Happy Valley this weekend hoping to exact some revenge on No. 17 Penn State (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten).
The Hawkeyes nearly spoiled the season for then-No. 4 Penn State last season in Kinnick Stadium until Trace McSorley and Juwan Johnson linked up for one of the most memorable touchdowns in Penn State history.
Iowa is coming off of a 23-0 victory over Maryland and has rattled off three straight conference victories. The Hawkeyes’ only loss of the season came against Wisconsin in a closely-fought battle at Iowa. Otherwise, they’ve pretty much controlled every contest.
Still, it’s safe to say that Wisconsin has been Iowa’s only real test this season, and Wisconsin has been a disappointment by most measures. Iowa’s Big Ten victories have come against Minnesota, Indiana, and Maryland. The Hawkeyes will show what they’re truly made of in a hostile Beaver Stadium atmosphere.
Iowa has shown Penn State that the Hawkeyes don’t need to be the best team in the land to upset the Nittany Lions.
The Iowa offense has never been known for being especially prolific. The Hawkeyes, truly an old-school Big Ten team, still line up in a pro-style offense. Unlike Penn State or Ohio State, Kirk Ferentz’s squad likes to make use of two-tight end sets with the help of a fullback.
At the helm of the offense is Nate Stanley, a junior quarterback and Wisconsin native. At 6’4″ and 242 pounds, Stanley has been a tough tackle for opposing defenses all season and has shown elusiveness a la Ben Roethlisberger.
Stanley is 119-for-195 through the air for 1,559 yards this season. He’s thrown for 16 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Stanley has a higher completion percentage, more yards, more touchdowns, and a higher quarterback rating than Trace McSorley in 2018, but he doesn’t bring the same running threat to the mix that Penn State’s No. 9 does. He’s carried the ball 18 times for 17 yards with a season-long run of 13 yards.
The running game hasn’t been a point of strength for Iowa. Toren Young, Mekhi Sargent, and Ivory Kelly-Martin have been splitting carries with 82, 73, and 74 carries apiece after the departure of Akrum Wadley. Young is averaging 4.9 yards per carry, but Sargent is getting just 4.1 yards per carry and Kelly-Martin is rushing for only 3.8.
The running game wasn’t particularly successful in 2017, either, despite all of the pieces for it. After losing two all-conference offensive linemen, things haven’t really moved forward. Still, the Hawkeyes’ offensive line is one of the very best when it comes to protecting its quarterback. The Hawkeyes have allowed just six sacks this season, which is tied for tenth-best in the FBS.
Iowa has a pretty exciting duo at tight end between TJ Hockenson and Noah Fant. Hockenson has 25 receptions for 424 yards and three touchdowns in 2018. Fant has tallied 26 receptions including six touchdowns and has become Stanley’s favorite target in the red zone. The two tight ends are not only lethal in the passing game — they’re also big bodies who will be important factors in the ground game.
The Hawkeye defense has been lights-out all season. In non-conference play, Iowa held Iowa State — who later hung 27 on Oklahoma and upset West Virginia 30-14 — to just three points. Wisconsin scored 28 against the Hawkeyes at Kinnick, but a late fourth-quarter score after an interception for the Badgers padded the scoreline in what was really a 21-17 game. Maryland couldn’t even put up a single point at Iowa.
Iowa also owns the second-best rushing defense in the FBS, allowing only 79.6 yards per game on the ground.
Junior linebacker Kristian Welch has been an important part of that stingy defense, totaling 40 tackles this season and a sack. Jack Hockaday, a senior linebacker from Illinois, also factors in heavily in the rushing defense and has recorded 33 tackles.
Defensive end Parker Hesse has been problematic for opposing offenses, making seven tackles-for-loss and bringing down the quarterback three times thus far. Opposite of Hesse works Anthony Nelson coming in at 6’7″ and 271 pounds. Nelson has 5.5 tackles-for-loss and five sacks this season, but the defensive production doesn’t end there: Sophomore end AJ Epenesa leads the defense with seven tackles-for-loss and six sacks.
The defensive backfield was a strength for Iowa in 2017 and not much has changed there — the unit has recorded nine interceptions this year. Jake Gervase and Amani Hooker lead the defensive backs from the safety position. Gervase is second on the team with 34 tackles, while Hooker is close behind with 33. Hooker also has two interceptions to his name.
At corner, Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins lead the way. The corners have played an instrumental role in landing Iowa’s defense at No. 18 in terms of passing yards allowed this season.
All you really need to know about this defense, though, is that it held Maryland scoreless, and Kasim Hill to 47 yards through the air last week, all while Stanley threw for just 86 yards.
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