2-Minute Drill: North Texas Mean Green at Iowa Hawkeyes

There's something to be said for taking care of business

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The Hawkeyes probably don’t need their helmets this week. Just punch in and punch out. No biggie.

The above sentiment probably has the Iowa coaching staff graying and/or balding by the minute. Of course, Iowa (2-0) needs it helmets, cleats, shoulder pads and all the football stuff Saturday against the North Texas Mean Green (1-1).

Iowa’s offense blazed through the air last week. It also lost senior offensive tackle Ike Boettger for the season with a ruptured Achilles. The offensive line seems settled, but Boettger is a big loss.

Defensively for the Hawkeyes, this is going to be a lot like last week. The Mean Green have a star running back in Jeffery Wilson, but it’s a legit “Air Raid” attack. Let’s see what Iowa’s defenders learned in one week after allowing 374 yards and four touchdowns through the air last week at Iowa State.

Game time is 2:30 p.m. and your channel is ESPN2.

North Texas rush defense vs. Iowa rush offense

Just as facing a fast-paced spread attack should be a relevant test for Iowa’s defense (hello, Penn State), the Hawkeyes offense will see a 3-4 defense with its overhang defenders on the edge who may or may not blitz the quarterback on any given down (and how are you doing, Wisconsin and 3-4?).

The Mean Green aren't nearly as big as the Badgers up front. The front three of DE Andy Flusche (6-3, 259), NT Roderick Young (6-1, 287) and LaDarius Hamilton (6-3, 240) will struggle with Iowa’s inside blocking.

You’ve noticed Iowa’s opponents the first few games have gummed up Iowa’s inside rush with extra defenders on the line of scrimmage. North Texas safety Khairi Muhammad (5-11, 182) is good at this. He leads the Mean Green with 13 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss.

With extra defenders clogging things up at the point of attack, the running game hasn’t come easy for the Hawkeyes. It’s early, but 3.68 yards per carry is poor. Yes, running back Akrum Wadley has rushed for more than 100 yards in the first two games, but his median yards per carry against the Cyclones was 2.

More: Akrum Wadley putting in the work so far in 2017

This is the O-line’s first week without Boettger. The running game hasn’t been a minus in the first two weeks, but it also hasn’t approached dominant and the incline is only going to rise from here on out.

Advantage: Iowa

North Texas pass defense vs. Iowa pass offense

Conference USA is a strange and wonderful conference. It’s kind of the Marines of college football. The good teams find ways to make whatever it can get their hands on work. This produces weird numbers sometimes that are hard to comprehend.

Through two games (FCS Lamar and SMU), North Texas has already faced 82 passes. That’s 109th in the country. It’s a big number, but it probably doesn’t say a ton about the Green’s secondary. It says the Air Raid is the latest fad in college football, especially in Texas, where speed grows on trees and fans don’t have the patience to wait for their program to sculpt and produce O-linemen.

Hey, the Green do actually have defensive backs (CB Kemon Hall) and linebackers (WLB William LeMasters) with interceptions. Iowa has picks from two defensive linemen.

The advantage checkmark has been a long time coming for Iowa’s pass offense. All it took was sophomore Nate Stanley putting up the best numbers (333 yards, five TDs) for an Iowa QB since Chuck Hartlieb against Northwestern in 1987.

Stanley missed on four long passes that potentially would’ve gone for TDs, but his performance invoked one of the Iowa program’s Holy QB Chucks (the other being Chuck Long). That’s a day.

Buckle your seat belt with WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette. He went from one snap and a fumble in week 1 to 44 snaps, four catches for 36 yards and two TDs, including a 15-yarder that’s going up on a wall in Iowa’s Hansen Performance Center at some point and the 5-yard game-winner in overtime.

Lost in the glow here is the ultra-solid performance from junior WR Nick Easley. He caught seven passes for 48 yards and a TD. He also threw a key block on RB Akrum Wadley’s game-tying 46-yard run.

Advantage: Iowa

North Texas rush offense vs. Iowa rush defense

The Green have a terrific running back in senior Jeffery Wilson (6-0, 194). He has 2,202 career rushing yards, No. 8 on the school’s career list. In week 1 against Lamar, an FCS school, Wilson rushed for 176 yards and three TDs on just 12 carries. He earned Conference USA player of the week.

Last week against SMU, an American Athletic Conference school, it was 13 rushes for 36 yards and a TD. It was slight step up in weight class for the Green and, just going off these rush numbers, it was a wake-up call.

North Texas does run the Air Raid. Mean Green head coach Seth Littrell worked under Air Raid aficionado Mike Leach at Texas Tech. Can this Air Raid offense generate a running game? Last season, the Green finished 12th in C-USA with 133.5 yards a game.

Maybe it comes around. The right side of the O-line is seniors. The left tackle is 6-9, 333.

Iowa’s rush defense raised the degree of difficulty at Iowa State last week with missed tackles. Lots and lots. In fact, LB Josey Jewell seemed genuinely pained over this fact even though he got to haul the Cy-Hawk Trophy across the field at Jack Trice Stadium.

The missed tackles were uncharacteristic, but ISU running back David Montgomery is good at football, too. Was that a preview for Penn State RB Saquon Barkley next week under the lights at Kinnick? Let’s leave that here and move on.

Advantage: Iowa

North Texas pass offense vs. Iowa pass defense

You’ve probably picked up by now that North Texas runs the Air Raid offense. It’s four wide receivers, no huddles, quick pacing and a whole lot of short passes that serve as the rushing attack. Generally, the Air Raid is the same play over and over again with a parade of variants to that play. It’s built for speed, in operation and execution.

Sophomore Mason Fine (5-11, 180) is the quarterback triggering for the Green. He’s coming off a career performance at SMU, throwing for 424 yards and three TDs. The underbelly of that stat line is after North Texas took a 10-0 lead, SMU ran off 38 unanswered points. In other words, there’s a garbage-time element to these numbers.

Every receiver in this offense has numbers. Sophomore Michael Lawrence (5-10, 180) has been the favorite target so far with 11 catches for 160 yards and a TD, including a career-high eight grabs vs. SMU. Sophomore Jalen Guyton (6-1, 194) is the other key cog, averaging 24.6 yards on seven catches.

Point of emphasis for Iowa’s pass defense this week was getting jams on receivers. The Hawkeyes allowed too many free releases for ISU receivers last week. When that happens, you see plays like Hakeem Butler’s 74-yard TD pass. Butler was untouched off the line of scrimmage and was on Gervase at full speed.

You’ll probably see a lot of dime defense (six defensive backs) if the Green play four wide receivers and no tight ends. That seemed to be the consensus rule of thumb from Iowa players.

Advantage: Iowa

Special teams

North Texas has an all-timer at kicker in Trevor Moore. He holds the school record for field goal percentage and we're not talking 6 for 10 or something paltry. He’s made 35 of 46 (76.1 percent) during his career. He’s also made a school record 110 consecutive PATs and sits atop seven statistical categories in school history.

Jaelon Darden averages 20.8 yards per kick return (sixth in C-USA). Punter Alvin Kenworthy has punted seven times with zero returns. North Texas’ kick coverage is allowing 25.57 yards per return. That’s 109th in the country.

Iowa punter Colten Rastetter is averaging just less than 40 yards a punt and has had only one returned in 11 punts. By the way, Iowa is sixth in the nation with 0.0 yards per one punt return. How is that tied for sixth? Five teams have allowed negative punt return yards.

Advantage: Iowa

Intangibles

1. Wait, what? — While the rest of Hawkeyeland dances with anticipation over a night game next week with Penn State in Kinnick Stadium, the actual players themselves do have to take care of business this week. As always, there’s something to be said for taking care of business.

2. Hot, hot, hot — The heat index is expected to climb into the 90s Saturday. On the Kinnick FieldTurf, that’s probably going to feel more like 120 degrees. Water Monsters will serve as hydration stations at each of the four corners of the Kinnick Stadium concourse. You’re going to stick to your seats.

3. Emotions of injuries — Everyone knows that O-linemen are just big, ol’ sweethearts. OK, not all O-linemen are wired that way, but Iowa seniors Sean Welsh and Boone Meyers have taken probably 100,000 practice reps with fellow senior Ike Boettger, who was lost for the season last week with a ruptured Achilles. They’re great friends and they’ll hurt, but there’s something to be said for taking care of business.

Iowa-North Texas prediction

North Texas will win if ... The Mean Green can pile up first downs and control the clock. North Texas is No. 14 in the country possessing the ball an average of 35:28 in its first two games.

Iowa will win if ... it takes care of business. Sense a theme here? Defense has the opportunity to put to work the lessons from last week. For the offense, it’d probably be a great time to break in some newbies if it can get to a comfortable lead.

Prediction: Iowa 41, North Texas 10

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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