Iowa Football

Iowa football preview: Everything you need to know about the 2019 Hawkeyes

The Hawkeyes swarm the field before a game against Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
The Hawkeyes swarm the field before a game against Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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It’s a season that seems to be starting with cautious optimism among Iowa football fans.

The Hawkeyes have a talented roster and are ranked 19th in the preseason coaches poll, but will face a challenging schedule in 2019.

With game week finally here, we have compiled a rundown of the schedule, a breakdown of the roster and all the offseason storylines you may have missed to get you ready for Saturday.


5 offseason reads

Here are a few stories you may have missed over the summer that you’ll want to catch up on or reread.

» Iowa shows some offense in Kids Day scrimmage

» Iowa football stars and new faces punch into a wide-open Big Ten West

» Oliver Martin focuses on football amid NCAA uncertainty

» Kinnick Stadium’s north end zone renovation is about more than just gameday

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» Iowa football has a championship attitude, but so does everyone


The Tristan Wirfs project

Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs is used to turning heads in Mount Vernon.

Sometimes it was his size. More heads turned when they noticed a not-yet-teenager hitting towering home runs into the city pool. Even more heads turned when one of the best throwers in state history launched a discus that touched down in the tennis courts.

The Gazette took a tour around Mount Vernon in mid-July with Sarah and Tristan Wirfs. There was an interview and along with that, scenes from around what essentially is the one square mile where Wirfs grew up.

This series is a little about what can hold you back. It’s mostly about what moves you forward.

 

Game-by-game analysis

Iowa beat writer Marc Morehouse previews all 12 games on the Hawkeyes’ schedule.

Aug. 31 — Miami (Ohio), 6:30 p.m. (FS1)

Iowa will win. How will the offense look dealing with a MAC program that values defense? Iowa’s defense should eat. The RedHawks don’t have a QB.

Read more » Miami (Ohio) needs a QB, but it should have a defense

Sept. 7 — Rutgers, 11 a.m. (FS1)

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Iowa will win. If it’s 14-7 again, be nervous about the season. If that’s the score, as it was in 2016, somehow, Iowa didn’t punch in. Or it doesn’t matter because it’s at Iowa State the next week and the emotions will be flowing like the Busch Light.

Read more » Rutgers, man

Sept. 14 — at Iowa State, 3 p.m. (FS1)

This sets up to be low scoring. Both teams should field A defenses. The Cyclones lost a lot of production. Iowa still is trying to defib its running game and had two early-entry tight ends go in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Read more » On paper, in theory, the Cy-Hawk should be a great game in 2019

 
 

Sept. 28 — Middle Tennessee State

How long can MTSU keep this competitive? That’s how we’ll start with this. Yes, Iowa should win. If Iowa is a serious Big Ten West contender, it leads by two scores and makes it three or four in the fourth quarter. But don’t run out and paint that on your garage door. When you schedule down, Iowa, really schedule down.

Read more » Iowa doesn’t really get the ‘scheduling down’ thing

Oct. 5 — at Michigan, 11 a.m.

Let’s not go crazy with the “Jim Harbaugh really wants to beat down the Hawkeyes because of 2016.” I think we all know by now that football doesn’t work that way. If you have a vendetta against one school, you’re going to leak all over the place and leave yourself open to a weird loss, maybe to Middle Tennessee State (I’m taking Michigan, which also plays MTSU this season). The Wolverines have Wisconsin in week 3. Maybe that plays in Iowa’s favor. The Badgers sort of suck the life out of you.

Read more » Michigan really did tear it up after losing 62-39 to Ohio State last year

Oct. 12 — Penn State

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Iowa’s offense has to show up with its cleats on. Yes, the Nittany Lions have averaged — sit down for a second — 496.6 yards against Iowa in the last three games. This PSU offense doesn’t have Saquon Barkley or Trace McSorley. Iowa’s offense has averaged 285.6 in the last three vs. PSU. This conclusion doesn’t come with a straight line, but the simple, raw numbers point at Iowa’s offense and wonder if it shouldn’t be pulling a little more weight. Yes, the games have been close the last two seasons, but PSU could win its sixth straight vs. Iowa this year. This is a chance for a gain, some status, for the 2019 Hawkeyes.

Read more » Penn State makes a super-late QB change and let’s see what happens

Oct. 19 — Purdue, 11 a.m.

If Iowa can hold up at corner, it has a shot. It hasn’t held up at corner vs. Purdue Coach Jeff Brohm. In the last two meetings, Brohm, a former QB who played in the XFL, has sent speed at the Iowa secondary and in two games has come up with a 65 percent completion percentage (45 of 69), 562 yards and seven TD passes to just two picks. Seems like a pattern.

Read more » Purdue fought for its life in the offseason (OK, it kept its coach)

Oct. 26 — at Northwestern, 11 a.m.

If Northwestern beats Iowa for a fourth straight season, it’ll match the Wildcats’ longest winning streak against Iowa ... since 1926 to 1933.

Read more » Northwestern might be poised to be permanent in the Big Ten West race

Nov. 9 — at Wisconsin

The Badgers have pulled ahead in the Heartland Trophy series. They’ve won three straight and six of the last sseven against the Hawkeyes. This isn’t breaking news in Iowa City. Wisconsin is the most meaningful rivalry Iowa has. The winner has a path to Indianapolis. The loser might make the Outback Bowl. Which one do you want?

Read more » 2018 was a blip for Wisconsin — probably

 
 

Nov. 16 — Minnesota

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OK, last year P.J. Fleck delivered Paul Bunyan’s Axe. After 15 years of futility, Minnesota finally beat Wisconsin in football. Remember when Iowa State did that against Iowa in 1998? The series has been basically even since (yes, Iowa is looking for its fifth straight this year, that’s still not 15). Minnesota hasn’t slapped Floyd of Rosedale’s bronze backside since 2014. Iowa could make it five in a row this season. If Fleck wrangles this one? He probably buys himself a solid two or three years of bliss with the fan base. For the coach, that’s incentive.

Read more » You keep finding reasons not to like Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck

Nov. 23 — Illinois

When the hot seat rankings come out, Illinois’ Lovie Smith will be No. 1 or 2.

Read more » This might be Lovie’s last stand at Illinois

Nov. 29 — at Nebraska, 1:30 p.m. (BTN)

If this comes down to two QBs taking over, who do you like? Adrian Martinez has great feet and has shown accuracy. Nate Stanley has had brilliant and broken moments. It won’t come down to two QBs taking over.

Read more » Scott Frost year 2 is more about the whole of Nebraska


Alternate uniforms

Iowa is going gold for one game this season. The Hawkeyes unveiled alternate uniforms this summer with a nod to a short-lived design from the 1990s.

Iowa will wear gold jerseys, gold pants and gold socks on Oct. 12 against Penn State. The black helmets will have gold facemasks.

The jerseys feature a “wings” design from the 1990s on the shoulders. The new version is black, but not gold, so the common banana peel comparison won’t be as apt this time.

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Photos » Iowa's original 'winged' uniforms from the 1990s


Roster breakdown

QUARTERBACK

Starter: 4 Nate Stanley, 6-4, 243, sr.

Backup: 7 Spencer Petras, 6-5, 230, R-fr.

OR 2 Peyton Mansell, 6-2, 208, so.

In December, quarterbacks coach Ken O’Keefe said two things that should serve as the “Nate Stanley guide for success in football the 2019 edition.”

“Just keep trying to improve every day. The rest of it is going to take care of itself,” O’Keefe said.

Simple but true.

Read more » Iowa has a senior leader and then 2020 hopefuls at quarterback

Read more » How the coordinator and quarterback deal goes at Iowa

 
 

RUNNING BACK

Starter: 10 Mekhi Sargent, 5-9, 212, jr.

Backup: 28 Toren Young, 5-11, 223, jr.

OR 21 Ivory Kelly-Martin, 5-10, 203, jr.

FULLBACK

Starter: 36 Brady Ross, 6-0, 246, sr.

Backup: 40 Turner Pallissard, 6-0, 242, R-fr.

Mekhi Sargent has had a year in the program. That means a full winter of conditioning with Iowa’s strength and conditioning staff. He’s had a spring at Iowa with running backs coach Derrick Foster.

What has this full year at Iowa done for him?

“Overall, I know I’m a better football player,” Sargent said. “I’m bigger, stronger, faster coming into this year. I’m in the best shape that I’ve ever been in. I’m the smartest I’ve ever been in football. I know a lot about the game.”

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Read more » Mekhi Sargent oozes confidence after a full year as a Hawkeye

Read more » Passing game is a big differentiator between Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young

 
 

WIDE RECEIVER

Starter: 12 Brandon Smith, 6-2, 218, jr.

Starter: 6 Ihmir Smith-Marsette, 6-1, 183, jr.

Backup: 3 Tyrone Tracy Jr., 5-11, 200, R-fr.

Backup: 89 Nico Ragaini, 6-0, 192, R-fr.

TIGHT END

Starter: 39 Nate Wieting, 6-4, 250, sr.

Backup: 18 Drew Cook, 6-5, 252, sr.

The Hawkeyes used 12 personnel (one back and two tight ends) 37 percent of the time (345 snaps) in 2018. They used 22 (two backs, two TEs) in 19 percent of their snaps (177). So, 57 percent of what you saw in 2018 came with Hockenson and Fant. As it should’ve.

Here’s how Noah Fant’s absence in the Outback Bowl against Mississippi State affected the number of two-tight end formations: After 37 snaps in 12 personnel against Nebraska, Iowa used 12 just four times. Iowa used 22 vs. the Huskers 18 times and then just five against MSU.

You knew Iowa would look different without two NFL first rounders at tight end. The Outback Bowl was a sneak peek.

Read more » Ihmir Smith-Marsette gets a step on the race to maturity

Read more » Outback Bowl was a preview on post-NFL tight end life

 
 

OFFENSIVE LINE

Starter (LT): 77 Alaric Jackson, 6-6, 320, jr.

Backup (LT): 71 Mark Kallenberger, 6-5, 291, so.

Starter (LG): 68 Landan Paulsen, 6-5, 305, sr.

Backup (LG): 64 Kyler Schott, 6-2, 290, so.

Starter (C): 65 Tyler Linderbaum, 6-3, 286, R-fr.

Backup: (C): 75 Jeff Jenkins, 6-3, 266, R-fr.

Starter (RG): 66 Levi Paulsen, 6-5, 305, sr.

OR 61 Cole Banwart, 6-4, 300, jr.

Backup (RG): 73 Cody Ince, 6-4, 287, R-fr.

Starter (RT): 74 Tristan Wirfs, 6-5, 322, jr.

Backup (RT): 79 Jack Plumb, 6-7, 272, R-fr.

The "Tyler Linderbaum to center” thing almost felt preordained.

Sure, he was a defensive tackle from day one last year during his freshman season. The Solon native even saw 18 snaps in four games. He was one of the 11 defensive linemen on the travel squad. With the graduation of defensive tackles Matt Nelson and Sam Brincks, it really looked like Linderbaum was on his way to a serious chunk of playing time at defensive tackle.

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Then, before the Hawkeyes took off to Tampa, Fla., for the Outback Bowl, Linderbaum was shuffled to center. He did play the position some at Solon, but this was more head coach Kirk Ferentz seeing the potential at a position he considers supremely important.

Read more » A look at Tyler Linderbaum’s seamless transition to center

Read more » Iowa’s guard position doesn’t feel totally settled

 
 

DEFENSIVE LINE

Starter (LE): 57 Chauncey Golston, 6-5, 270, jr.

Starter (RE): 94 A.J. Epenesa, 6-6, 280, jr.

Backup (LE): 92 John Waggoner, 6-5, 270, R-fr.

Backup (RE): 97 Zach VanValkenburg, 6-4, 270, jr.

Starter (LT): 95 Cedrick Lattimore, 6-3, 295, sr.

Backup (LT): 54 Daviyon Nixon, 6-3, 309, so.

Starter (RT): 91 Brady Reiff, 6-3, 277, sr.

Backup (RT): 99 Noah Shannon, 6-0, 294, R-fr.

OR 74 Austin Schulte, 6-4, 287, jr.

Eight defensive linemen getting playing time would be great.

If the result is a lot of third-and-8s, then there will be a lot of chances for mayhem stats.

Read more » 8 would be great for the Iowa defensive line

Read more » Lots of viable candidates for playing time on the Iowa defensive line

 
 

LINEBACKERS

Starter (Leo): 35 Barrington Wade, 6-1, 236, jr.

Starter (Cash): 12 D.J. Johnson, 5-11, 183, R-fr.

Starter (MLB): 34 Kristian Welch, 6-3, 239, sr.

Backup (MLB): 43 Dillon Doyle, 6-3, 235, R-fr.

Starter (WLB): 32 Djimon Colbert, 6-1, 235, so.

Backup (WLB): 49 Nick Niemann, 6-4, 235, jr.

This is where Iowa’s move last season to a 4-2-5 defense needs to be discussed.

After the Wisconsin game last season, the outside linebacker position wasn’t exactly decommissioned, but the plant had a layoff. Wisconsin caught Iowa trying to cover a wide receiver with an outside linebacker and beat the Hawkeyes. After that game, you started hearing about the “cash” and “star” positions.

 

Read more » Amani Jones excited to contribute as a hybrid linebacker

Read more » Iowa has 1 less linebacker job; still tons of competition

 
 

SECONDARY

Starter (CB): 11 Michael Ojemudia, 6-1, 200, sr.

Starter (CB): 8 Matt Hankins, 6-0, 185, jr.

Backup (CB): 12 D.J. Johnson, 5-11, 183, R-fr.

Backup (CB): 33 Riley Moss, 6-1, 191, so.

Starter (SS): 9 Geno Stone, 5-10, 210, jr.

Backup (SS): 1 Wes Dvorak, 6-0, 200, sr.

Starter (FS): 26 Kaevon Merriweather, 6-0, 210, so.

Backup (FS): 28 Jack Koerner, 6-0, 204, so.

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Iowa’s cornerback position in 2018 was wavy because of injury. Not “wavy” as in the play was off, but “wavy” in that it had two sets of starters who were in and out of the plans simultaneously.

This was one of those situations where injuries helped younger players gain experience. Should make for an interesting, flexible and experienced corner group in 2019.

 

Read more » Kaevon Merriweather goes from D-I basketball recruit to starting free safety at Iowa

Read more » Competition all over the place in Iowa’s secondary

 
 

SPECIALISTS

Starter (PK): 10 Caleb Shudak, 5-8, 180, jr.

OR 3 Keith Duncan, 5-10, 180, jr.

Starter (P): 22 Michael Sleep-Dalton, 6-0, 212, sr.

Backup (P): 7 Colten Rastetter, 6-1, 213, sr.

Starter (LS): 50 Jackson Subbert, 6-3, 243, sr.

Backup (LS): 85 Nate Vejvoda, 6-5, 250, sr.

Read more » Keith Duncan seeks to regain kicking duties at Iowa

Read more » Hawkeyes will probably spring some special teams ‘trickeration’

Read more » Michael Sleep-Dalton: Former Australian electrician, current Iowa punter

 

Meet the freshmen

OFFENSIVE LINE

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The Hawkeyes needed something of a reload on the O-line and signed four OL prospects during this recruiting cycle — Justin Britt, Noah Fenske, Tyler Endres and Ezra Miller.

» In-depth breakdown

DEFENSIVE LINE

Iowa brought in a Division-II transfer for the "now" in Zach VanValkenburg, plus true freshmen Chris Reames, Jake Karchinski and Taajhir McCall.

» In-depth breakdown (Note: Jalen Hunt enrolled at Michigan State)

BACK SEVEN

Linebackers Jestin Jacobs, Jack Campbell and Yahweh Jeudy bring positional stability. Defensive backs Dane Belton, Sebastian Castro, Daraun McKinney and Jermari Harris enter Phil Parker's dojo.

» In-depth breakdown

SKILL POSITIONS

Iowa is in the "one QB per year" mode. This year it signed Alex Padilla.

Did Iowa need to find a running back? Yes. Enter Tyler Goodson and Shadrick Byrd.

Is three tight ends enough? Yes. Meet Josiah Miamen, Logan Lee and Sam LaPorta.

Is one wide receiver enough? Yes. It's Desmond Hutson.

» In-depth breakdown


On Iowa Podcast

The Gazette’s Marc Morehouse and The Athletic’s Scott Dochterman bring you two hours of Iowa football talk every Thursday.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.