Iowa Football

Play Action: Maryland Terrapins at No. 22 Iowa Hawkeyes

Terps fight for the honor of their fallen teammate

Iowa hosts Maryland this Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. (The Gazette)
Iowa hosts Maryland this Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. (The Gazette)

No. 22 Iowa (5-1, 2-1 Big Ten) plays host to Maryland (4-2, 2-1) on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. Kickoff is 11:01 a.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN2.

The Terps’ Vibe

1. Living in limbo — Maryland had a player die during a summer workout. There’s been no closure in the Jordan McNair case.

The man in charge at the time, head coach D.J. Durkin, has been on administrative leave for more than two months. In the Terps media notes this week, Durkin remains listed as the head coach. There’s a whole page listing his accomplishments. Meanwhile, a group of players’ parents talked to The Athletic about their fears of Durkin being reinstated.

Four months and no closure for the McNair family. The results of more investigations will be unveiled soon.

The players remain resolute, and I want to honor their efforts. Still, it’s difficult to place much importance on the football part of Maryland with so many big, unresolved issues still on the table.

The players are honoring their fallen teammate every step of the way. It’s mind-bending kids are in this position.

2. Running, running, running — Maryland’s 245.2 rushing yards per game ranks third in the Big Ten and 17th nationally. Three Terrapins — Ty Johnson, Anthony McFarland and Tayon Fleet-Davis — have 45 or more carries and at least 230 rushing yards.

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Here’s a number: The Terps lead the Big Ten with 19 rushes of 20-plus yards. The Hawkeyes are tied for 13th with three.

Jet sweeps and inside zones until your nose bleeds.

3. If you’re going to do one thing ... — Maryland is a terrific rush offense that doesn’t get a lot of help from the passing game.

Pure yardage, the Terps are at 120.5, that’s No. 125 in the nation and last in the Big Ten. But, kind of like Iowa’s running game, is this a deficit or, with a running game that has teeth, is this just enough of a passing threat to keep eight defenders off the line of scrimmage?

Quarterback Kasim Hill starts. He was a big part of the reason why the Terps hung No. 7 Texas with its lone loss of 2018. He recorded career highs in yards (222) and completions (17). He also had a career-long 65-yard completion. Tyrrell Pigrome also gets snaps. He’s the runner, averaging 6.29 yards on 24 carries.

4. Terps have a shell of a defense — The Terps get to the QB enough (12.0 sacks this season). They're in the bottom third of the league in overall tackles for loss (tied for eighth with 36). Individual disruption isn’t a major factor, but that doesn’t mean Maryland doesn’t defend.

There’s a number that speaks to just how “sound” a team is. The Athletic’s Brian Fremeau tracks “possession success rate.” It’s basically the percentage of time a team “wins” possessions. For offense, that’s points. On defense, it’s stops.

You know Iowa is having a pretty good year. It’s No. 21 in this number with .593. Maryland is No. 25 at .583.

5. Stabilized — I think the thing that’s kind of freaky about Maryland is it has put up numbers that not only say it’s a stable team, but it’s close to being dominant. You can’t just say it’s the schedule, either. The Temple game is an outlier (Maryland hopes), but the Terps have taken care of business when expected (Bowling Green, Minnesota, Rutgers) and, in Texas, probably have the best win between the two teams facing off Saturday at Kinnick.

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What’s Happening With The Hawkeyes?

1. Let’s start with special teams — Still good here. Pretty much across the board.

Punter Colten Rastetter averages 43.3 yards a punt. That would be third in the Big Ten, but Rastetter averages just 3.2 punts a game. You need 3.6 to be eligible for the list. Iowa hasn’t punted enough this year. Let that rattle around a bit.

Wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette would be leading the Big Ten with 37.4 yards per return. He averages just 1.0 returns a game. You need 1.2.

Maryland is gettable here. The Terps are 13th in the Big Ten in punt coverage, allowing 10.1 yards per return. They’re 12th in kick coverage at 22.4 per return.

2. Niemann! — It remains to be seen if this is a full-bore return for sophomore linebacker Nick Niemann, but he’s practiced this week and likely will be a key alley player for Iowa’s defense, especially against an offense that likes to attack the perimeter.

Niemann is a 6-4, 232-pound linebacker who can run like a safety. The Niemanns have been a massively valuable natural resource for Iowa’s defenses since 2015, when Nick’s older brother, Ben, won the OLB job.

Against Maryland’s rushing attack, Niemann will be a key cog in setting an edge and forcing backs into pursuit.

What about safety? Assume Amani Hooker goes back to the strong spot. Sophomore Geno Stone, even as well as he’s played, probably is the odd man out. Don’t read too much into that. Stone has definitely opened eyes. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker probably has very few questions left on him.

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3. BAU at corner — I don’t know how this is going to shake out. It appears true freshmen Julius Brents and Riley Moss are Iowa’s new corners. It’s pretty clear junior Michael Ojemudia is a No. 2 behind Moss. Brents has played as well as anyone in the secondary since replacing the injured Matt Hankins going into Minnesota.

The Brents/Hankins thing is less clear. Hankins made strides and positioned himself as a solid cover corner and a fearless tackler. It’s simply difficult to get a ball over the 6-2 Brents.

For now, it’s a good problem. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said this week the freshmen are still in the batter’s box.

4. You can’t have everything — Iowa’s running game hasn’t been the strong element of the offense this season. That’s a departure that really started last season, when some really good skill position players were getting their feet wet as first-year starters. You know, quarterback Nate Stanley, tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson and wide receivers Nick Easley, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith.

But really, Iowa’s running game has been serviceable. It’s been able to take time off the clock. Last week at Indiana, it was 33:10 in time of possession with a nearly four-minute drive at the end to finish off the Hoosiers.

It’s been enough. It’s not been explosive.

Iowa’s 25 10-plus rushes is 11th in the Big Ten. The three 20-plus rushes is tied for last. It’s not the worst problem, and maybe the passing game can help spring some explosive rush plays.

5. Chemistry test — Go ahead and downplay it, but chemistry is the kind of thing that makes a season like 2015 pull through.

I’m not going to hang 2015 expectations on this. OK, maybe that is shortsighted. This is clearly one of Ferentz’s good Iowa teams. It has potential to be great. That story will be written in the next few months.

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“I think it’s huge in success,” Ferentz said. “I think it’s huge in any team activity or group activity. I do see it. It’s been ongoing. ...

“I feel good about the guys we have. They’re all committed to doing things well. I haven’t seen any cases of ego setting in or that kind of stuff, this or that. Those are the kinds of things that get teams off the track sometimes.”

Prediction

Iowa 33, Maryland 17

What’s a winning number for Maryland? 200 rushing yards? Let’s go with that. Can the Terps do that to Iowa? Probably not.

The forecast calls for heavy wind (in excess of 20 mph from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and Las Vegas has watched this line go from 12 to 9 points during the week.

It’s only a trap game if you let it be.

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

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