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3 keys for Iowa football against Rutgers
Iowa’s offensive line, Rutgers’ rushing attack among areas to watch closely
It’s not hard to find some similarities between the Iowa and Rutgers football teams.
They both have offenses that do not rank highly in most analytical measures. ESPN’s Football Power Index rates Rutgers’ offense 83rd and Iowa’s offense 128th in efficiency.
They both rely on defense and special teams to win the field-position battle. They both have elite punters from Melbourne, Australia.
Here are three keys for the Hawkeyes as they face perhaps their Big Ten East doppelgängers:
Can Iowa’s offensive line provide consistent protection?
Yes, Iowa had some exciting moments on the ground against Nevada, in part because of the protection from the offensive line.
But take out Kaleb Johnson’s two touchdown plays — they skew the yards per carry average — and it does not instill much confidence.
Subtract the 40- and 55-yard plays, and Iowa would’ve averaged 2.0 yards per carry instead of 4.6 against a subpar Nevada defense.
“There's still a lot of little things that we can do a lot better, and that gets back to experience,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said about the offensive line. “We're chasing the clock there.”
Will Iowa’s veteran defensive front shut down Rutgers’ rushing attack?
Iowa’s rush defense has been a strength in recent years.
This year, the Hawkeyes have allowed only 2.1 yards per carry. Last year, they allowed 3.2. The year before that? 2.8.
It’ll be an important strength for Iowa against a Rutgers team that likes to run the ball.
For every one pass in 2022, Rutgers has about 2.2 rushing attempts.
When it works, Rutgers has done well under head coach Greg Schiano. When it doesn’t work, the results have often been ugly.
In the last two seasons — Schiano’s two years that haven’t been impacted by COVID-19 — Rutgers is 7-1 when it has the advantage in rushing yards. When it doesn’t, Rutgers is 1-7.
Stopping the run would also help Iowa control possession — another key indicator for whether Rutgers will succeed.
In the Scarlet Knights’ 16 games since the start of the 2021 season, they’re 7-2 when having the advantage in time of possession and 1-6 when they don’t.
Will Drew Stevens be consistent as the No. 1 kicker?
True freshman Drew Stevens had a solid first game as Iowa’s No. 1 place-kicker, hitting field goals from 43 and 33 yards.
Ferentz said Saturday “you haven’t seen the last of” Aaron Blom, but Stevens had the first-team spot on this week’s depth chart, so it seems like Stevens is the top guy for now.
After a year of Caleb Shudak and two years of Keith Duncan before that, Iowa has been accustomed to exceptional field-goal kicking.
With the question marks on the offense, Stevens’ reliability could make the difference between a 10-7 loss or a 13-10 win.
What’s at stake
Now that the Big Ten schedule is underway, this will have significant implications not just for bowl eligibility, but also for the Big Ten West title fight.
Especially with the apparent weakness of the West division this year, a 6-3 team could go to Indianapolis. But using up one of those three losses against a team like Rutgers would leave almost no margin for error.
Michigan, Ohio State, Wisconsin, Purdue and Minnesota all loom and are expected to be much more challenging foes.
Iowa might not get much public credit for a win against Rutgers, but it’d be important for bowl eligibility. With a win Saturday, Iowa would only have to go 3-5 in the rest of Big Ten play.
These teams have similar styles of play. They don’t have similar levels of talent, though.
Iowa 16, Rutgers 7