116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Only one team can keep its winning streak alive on Friday night and while the Iowa Hawkeyes (4-0, 1-0) are No. 5 in the latest AP poll, there’s still an uneasiness to the talent they’re facing out east.
The short turnaround ahead of Friday’s game at Maryland (4-0, 1-0) means the players have one less day of rest, but it also gives them a sense of urgency to ride the momentum they’ve had in the past month.
Last week’s 24-14 win over Colorado State was a wake-up call for Iowa, as multiple players cited being down at halftime taught them a lesson going into Big Ten play.
“It was good to kind of get that realization like we're not always going to be winning,” Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell said. “We just continue to learn from that and just having that approach that every snap matters, that's something that's invaluable.”
Jack Campbell collects accolades
Campbell was named the Bronko Nagurski National Player of the Week on Tuesday after recording a season-high 18 tackles, including seven solo, while adding three pass breakups and a fumble recovery against Colorado State. He also became Iowa’s second Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week this season on Monday.
“If it were up to me, he'd be a defensive end or a center probably,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I got nixed on both those, vetoed badly. He's just a good football player, and he is an unusual — he's got unusual size for a linebacker.”
Campbell leads Iowa’s defense with 43 tackles and has recovered a fumble in the past three games. Josey Jewell was the last player to earn the national weekly honor in 2017. Campbell will also be the fourth captain this week alongside senior safety Jack Koerner, junior center Tyler Linderbaum and senior safety Matt Hankins.
How much offense is a pressing need?
Iowa is still last in the Big Ten in total offense, averaging 293 yards per game, while Maryland is No. 2 next to Ohio State, averaging 519 yards per game. So far, Maryland’s 4-0 slate has included wins over West Virginia (30-24), Howard (62-0), Illinois (20-17) and Kent State (37-16).
Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras’ deep passing game shined last week against the Rams, as he connected with freshman Keagan Johnson on passes of 49 and 43 yards before adding a 34-yarder to Nico Ragaini in the fourth quarter.
Petras went almost six games without an interception, as coaches have emphasized the risk factors associated with trying to throw an accurate deep ball.
“I'm not sure people always appreciate how hard a job it is to be the quarterback,” Ferentz said. “We've had deep throws in our playbook. It's just Saturday they were there. It's great to see him be aggressive with the ball and do that.”
But so far, Iowa hasn’t needed much of an offensive strategy with the stops it is getting on defense. Iowa has allowed an average of 271.5 yards per game of opposing total offense, along with forcing an average of 2.3 turnovers per game this season. Both are top of the Big Ten, and Iowa ranks as the No. 3 team defense in the nation.
“Our team goal is not to be last in the league, offensively, that's for sure,” Ferentz said. “To be 4-0 right now is as good as you can do, so we're happy about that. There are things on defense we can get better, too. I mentioned third down, I think the other day, or least I'll mention it right now.“
Battling Maryland’s quarterback
Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa averages over 300 yards passing per game, and part of that is his mobility outside of the pocket. While he’s only had 33 yards on the ground so far this season, Ferentz still considers him a dual threat like the other quarterbacks Iowa has faced — only better.
“The other guys have been guys who were effective pulling the ball down and going. This guy, he'll get outside the pocket,” Ferentz said. “If we let him outside, it's a little dangerous. He'll do that with ease.”
Iowa’s defense will lean more on using its cash position — a hybrid defensive back and linebacker like junior Dane Belton — in the pass coverage, but Ferentz noted that he liked what he saw out of Jestin Jacobs as an outside linebacker the past two weeks.
“(Tagovailoa is) looking down the field when he gets out there. He will run it, but he's trying to make a play, and that's really scary,” Ferentz said. “Now they force you to stay back in coverage. When he's broke in contain, that's a dilemma for any defensive player.”
Offensive line personnel update
Iowa guard Kyler Schott will see playing time against Maryland, but there will likely continue to be personnel rotations as he continues to get back in shape. Justin Britt has been practicing and looks “encouraging,” Ferentz said.
Maryland will feature a defensive front that leads the Big Ten in sacks this season (16), which is fifth in the country. Iowa struggled to run the ball last week, amassing only 54 rushing yards.
The offensive line will continue to rotate its personnel. Six players saw snaps on the offensive line against Colorado State, while 11 did against Kent State.
“I would assume, once Kyler gets himself in game shape, he'll be playing more because we've already seen him play and we know he can play pretty well,” Ferentz said.