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Home / 2-Minute Drill: The Northern Iowa Panthers
IOWA RUSH OFFENSE VS. UNI RUSH DEFENSE
You've probably heard the name Xavier Williams more than a few times this week. There's a good reason for that. The 6-4, 310-pound defensive tackle might give Northern Iowa its best chance to slow down the Hawkeyes run game.
The senior from Kansas City, Mo., is a three-year starter and he's active. Last season, he was third on the team with 74 tackles. He had 12 tackles for loss and six sacks, earning FCS honorable mention all-America. UNI coach Mark Farley offered an excellent assessment of what makes Williams work: 'He's got real long arms. He does a real good job anticipating the hit, if you will. He knows where the pressure points are. He has a way of finding his way through those. He can extend and get some separation so he can get down the field again.'
Linebacker Jake Farley (6-2, 228), suffered a broken leg against North Dakota State 10 months ago, returns to the lineup. Last season, he had 56 tackles in the first five games. Middle linebacker Max Busher (6-1, 237), who led the Panthers with 75 tackles last year, also returns.
With Williams, Farley and Busher, UNI should be strong down the middle up front. Iowa has junior center Austin Blythe (6-3, 290), who begins his third year as a starter, and then it has players with short, stunted resumes. Junior right guard Jordan Walsh (6-4, 290) started all 13 games last season, but rotated in and out. Redshirt freshman Sean Welsh (6-3, 285) won the left guard spot out of spring.
Iowa has four running backs and an all-American candidate at left tackle. It has a chance to control the tempo of the game here, but UNI is formidable where Iowa wants to take the ball.
IOWA PASS OFFENSE VS. UNI PASS DEFENSE
UNI's secondary is experienced. Cornerbacks Makinton Dorleant (5-11, 176) and Deiondre' Hall (6-2, 193) combined for nine pass breakups and three interceptions. Free safety Ray Mitchell (6-1, 202) is your complete safety model. He led the Panthers with four interceptions last season, including two for TD returns against Western Illinois, and he had 56 tackles.
UNI isn't LSU. They do share the color purple, there's that. LSU is where Iowa's passing game left off last season. How did that go? Junior quarterback Jake Rudock reinjured a knee and left the game. Sophomore C.J. Beathard entered when Iowa was in semi-comeback mode and it was rainy and it just didn't click. They combined for 13 of 30 for 157 yards, a TD and two picks. UNI isn't LSU, and a lot of Big Ten teams (or most) aren't LSU. This is just a point of reference to show where Iowa finished last season.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Greg Davis have said Rudock is the unquestioned starter, but they've also said they're interested in getting Beathard into games. It has to be a situation where it threatens defenses. We will see.
This is kind of a big day for Iowa receivers, wide receivers and tight ends. Iowa wideouts haven't put the fear of 'all up X post' — you know, the play that beat LSU in the '05 Capital One Bowl — into anybody the last two years. This year, with an infusion of redshirt freshmen, the talent level has elevated. For the tight ends, it's Iowa first season post-C. J. Fiedorowicz, the jumbo-sized TE who was drafted in the third round by the Houston Texans. What the Hawkeyes have in place now is four players (Ray Hamilton, Jake Duzey, Henry Krieger-Coble and George Kittle) who are eager and offer differing skill sets.
UNI RUSH OFFENSE VS. IOWA RUSH DEFENSE
Rank the NFL-able players in this game. Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff is No. 1 (that's a gimme). Then, you probably go Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis with UNI fans stating a solid case for running back David Johnson. The point is Johnson has worked himself into an NFL prospect during his five years in Cedar Falls.
Johnson (6-3, 229) is No. 4 on UNI's career rushing list (3,129), seventh in career points (264) and is just one of three players in UNI history with more than 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving (1,198). (Tuck away what Johnson can do in the passing game for now).
While we're on the top of NFL-able players in this game, does UNI tackle Jack Rummells fit in? The former West Branch prep begins this season with 29 career starts, including all 12 as the Panthers' left tackle last season. He's got requisite size (6-5, 300) and has left an impression. 'Jack is obviously our mainstay,' UNI offensive coordinator Bill Salmon said. 'He is as good of a player as we have had here.'
During Iowa's interview sessions this week, senior defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat mentioned that he has noticed himself talking to the linebacker more so far this season than any other. That's logical. Iowa's linebackers are new. Iowa lost three seniors who are currently in NFL camps (with two possible starters) and who compiled 35.5 tackles for loss and 11.5 sacks. What will distinguish a young linebacker corps? Tackles behind the line of scrimmage would be a great start. As for who those young linebackers will be, it's up in the air after senior middle linebacker Quinton Alston. Freshman Josey Jewell and sophomore Reggie Spearman are working it out at weakside; junior Travis Perry and freshman Bo Bower are candidates on the strongside.
UNI PASS OFFENSE VS. IOWA PASS DEFENSE
Junior Sawyer Kollmorgen (6-2, 228) has won a bit of a camp battle with Brion Carnes (6-1, 197). Kollmorgen is the passer. He is seventh at UNI in career touchdown passes (35) and is ninth with 4,284 passing yards. Carnes, a transfer from Nebraska, offers a run threat (he averaged 3.4 yards on 66 carries last year).
A couple variables that went into this: Kollmorgan played just nine games last season after suffering a pair of concussions. Carnes helped UNI snap a five-game losing streak and won three starts.
If Kollmorgen starts, Carnes will play somewhere. He saw action as a running back and as a return specialist last season. The passing game is where the Panthers can threaten Iowa. Kollmorgen is experienced and probably eager to return to his freshman form. Carnes is quick and could be a tough matchup. Johnson has a huge comfort level in the passing game (he has 757 all-puporse yards in four games against FBS schools). In wide receivers Chad Owens (5-11, 195) and Kevin Vereen Jr. (6-3, 205), the Panthers return a combined 112 receptions for 1,345 yards and nine TDs.
We've covered the newness at Iowa linebacker. There's also a new-car smell to the secondary. Sophomore Greg Mabin is in line for his first career start today. He played ... he didn't play a down last season. The 6-2, 195-pounder is going from guy wearing a jersey and making sure he doesn't get in the way on the sideline to No. 1 corner. That's quite a leap (his dad, Wes, played cornerback for Nebraska, winning two national titles from 1968-71, and cousin Jordan Mabin was a starting corner at Northwestern). Junior Jordan Lomax is the No. 1 free safety after starting last season as No. 1 corner. An injury in the opener derailed that and opened the door to sophomore Desmond King, who then started the rest of the season. There's high confidence in Lomax.
But you can see where this might be UNI's 'in.'
Both teams will ride the discovery adventure of having a new kicker. The Panthers lost kicker Tyler Sievertsen who made 21 of 27 last season. The new guy is junior Michael Schmadeke. Mike Meyer became Iowa's No. 2 career scoring leader in four years as the starter. Junior walk-on Marshall Koehn won a camp battle with true freshmen Mick Ellis and Miguel Recinos. The Solon native has always been the heir apparent, but the competition wasn't called until game week.
Iowa also had a lengthy and mostly even, according to Ferentz, camp battle at punter. Junior Dillon Kidd unseated incumbent junior Connor Kornbrath, who had a 39.1 career average in two seasons. In the open scrimmage, Kidd appeared to have the stronger leg, but this likely isn't totally over. The whole point of bringing Kidd in was to create competition. That likely holds true throughout the season.
Iowa has indecision in the linebacker corps and probably won't play running backs in the special teams units, so those again likely will skew young. That means growing pains. Running backs Jordan Canzeri and Jonathan Parker are competing at kick returner. For UNI, Hall averaged 20.2 yards on 10 kick returns last season. Owens is listed as the punt returner.
— Iowa's 2009 scare against the Panthers has left a burn in the Hawkeyes' plasma TV screen. Of course, you block two 40-yard field goals in the final seconds to survive at Kinnick Stadium against an FCS opponent, you tend to remember their colors. Iowa and UNI did it again in 2012. This time, Iowa lost two running backs and unearthed Mark Weisman, who's turned out to be the team's leading rusher the last two seasons. Iowa showed respect, winning 27-16 and not even thinking of trying out any pyrotechnics on offense. It just wanted to win and get to the lockerroom. Iowa carries the mark of '09 and it won't go into this with its feet up.
2) 'Prove it' mode
— The Hawkeyes have been a semi-chic pick for the College Football Playoff. Get through the non-conference with a 4-0 record, win the Big Ten West and then the championship game, sure, Iowa would have a solid argument. That kind of 'prove it' is and should be way down the list. This 'prove it' goes to the 14 potential sort-of-new starters in Iowa's starting 22 and kicker/punter. That's a lot of newness. Also, you can probably tag running back, wide receiver and tight end with 'prove it.' Staying grounded should be relatively easy for this program, which just two seasons ago finished 4-8.
3) This is a trophy game and the Hawkeyes are the trophy
— Being a semi-chic pick for the playoff is one way to be in the national spotlight. Another is to losing at home to an FCS opponent in your opener. If it looks as though FCS teams spin off their axis into euphoria when they conquer an FBS school, it's because they do. And why not? Only one FCS will win the national title. This season, there will be 108 FBS-FCS matchups. Last year, the FCS notched 16 upsets, highlighted in the season's opening weekend when North Dakota State won at Kansas State, Eastern Washington toppled Oregon State and FBS-bound Georgia Southern topped Florida. This is the opening weekend, UNI is an FCS school and the Hawkeyes are the trophy.
IOWA WILL WIN IF ...
The Hawkeyes rush for 200-plus yards and apply pressure to Kollmorgen. If Iowa averages 5.0 yards or more per carry, it will enter a comfort zone as far as rhythm goes. UNI has veteran players in its passing game. They could exploit a young secondary if the Hawkeyes can't at least bug Kollmorgen.
UNI WILL WIN IF ...
If the Panthers defend the play-action pass and Johnson approaches 250 all-purpose yards. Iowa likely will wade into the passing game with its go-to play-action pass game, faking the run and targeting tight ends, the comfort food of Iowa's passing game. Iowa has talked about going more vertical, but that's a 'believe it when you see it.'
PREDICTION: Iowa 34, UNI 17
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