Iowa Football

Play Action: Iowa Hawkeyes at Indiana Hoosiers

Hawkeye wide receivers got going last week, maybe it's the running backs' turn this week

Indiana hosts Iowa Saturday in Big Ten football at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Indiana hosts Iowa Saturday in Big Ten football at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Ind. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

Iowa (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) travels to Indiana (4-2, 1-1) this weekend. Kickoff is 11:01 a.m. and the game will be televised on ESPN2.

The Hoosiers’ Vibe

1. Feelin’ good — The Hoosiers are 4-2 and zeroing in on a bowl game. That’s still a thing for Indiana football. The Hoosiers had an eight-year break from bowls before Kevin Wilson’s squad broke through in 2015. Wilson was let go-ish in the face of player treatment issues, and current head coach Tom Allen stepped in for the 2016 Foster Farms Bowl.

Last year was an off year, with a 5-7 record in Allen’s first season.

Fighting for a bowl game probably is where Indiana will be probably forever in the Big Ten East. Allen also is the defensive coordinator. IU values defense now and can still get chunks of yards on offense.

Can they do it against good teams when it matters?

Adding to the feel-good vibe is recruiting. Four-star running back Sampson James announced Sunday that he has committed to IU, flipping his college choice from Ohio State to the Hoosiers.

You’d be doing back flips if that happened for the Hawkeyes.

2. Born to be QB — Peyton Ramsey is IU’s quarterback. His brother is named Montana after that guy Joe Montana. His other brother is named Darrell. Kidding, he’s named Drew after Drew Bledsoe.

Other than that oddity, Ramsey has given the Hoosiers a shot of confidence with consistent play and dual threatedness (not a word, but you know what I mean).

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His 141 completions is eighth nationally. His 66.8 completion percentage is fourth in the league. Yards per attempt isn’t great at 6.5 yards, but IU has had to negotiate some injuries in the receiving corps.

Take out 50 yards for sacks and Ramsey is closer to 4.5 yards per carry. He’s the Hoosiers’ second-leading rusher, averaging 10.2 attempts per game.

3. That’s a supersized running back — The Indiana game notes come with a section on each position. The running back one has a picture of Stevie Scott, the true freshman who’s fifth in the Big Ten with 88 rushing yards per game (4.9 yards per carry).

What’s crazy is Scott shouldn’t even be a blip on the screen for IU’s running game this season. The Hoosiers had a pair of freshmen lead them in rushing last season. Morgan Ellison led IU with 704 yards and Cole Gest had 428.

Gest suffered a torn ACL in the opener. Ellison has been suspended since Aug. 24 with no explanation from the school.

So, right on time with Scott, who’s also a 6-2, 236-pounder with two Big Ten freshman of the week honors already.

4. Indiana takes away the takeaways — Allen was hired because IU has been decent on offense through the years, but always was a sieve on defense.

Allen changed that immediately. This year, that is showing up in takeaways. Now, of course, takeaways are a tricky stat. Defenses can create them, but the offense still has to do something stupid.

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IU’s 13 turnovers show a good, opportunistic defense, squeezing seven interceptions and six fumbles out of a schedule that’s included four teams with winning records and Ball State and Rutgers.

5. You really should be a Ricky Brookins fan — Ricky Brookins is a fifth-year senior running back. You won’t see him carry the ball Saturday, but you should know of his goodwill.

Brookins spearheaded a GoFundMe page for football manager Matt Stauder that has surpassed $31,500.

Stauder is a senior at IU. Last year, he lost his father unexpectedly after a heart attack. Shortly after, he was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma and began cancer treatments in May.

Here’s the link, do your thing, Iowa people.

What’s Happening With The Hawkeyes?

1. Giddy on the passing — Do you guys give QB Nate Stanley any credit for being a good soldier for the first two games?

Iowa had backup offensive tackles against Northern Illinois. Clearly, that shaped the game plan. Iowa State still is playing salty defense and you know Kirk Ferentz isn’t going to go Evel Knievel against Iowa State unless the game is headed to overtime and the Hawkeyes need 44 points to win.

Stanley was boxed in a bit by the goal, which, you know, was winning the first two games.

The last three games? Stanley has dropped two 300-yard games. He’s averaged 293 yards, has completed 60 of 90 (66 percent) and has a yards per attempt of 9.8. He’s also had eight TDs to three picks.

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There’s still variance (the nice word for “holy bleep, what was that”), but, like good hitters who go through slumps, Stanley seems rounding into the high side of the standard he set for himself last season.

2. And the wide receivers are helping — Nick Easley, Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith combined on 14 receptions for 198 yards. It was a huge step forward for the group.

Easley is healthy after having his snap count throttled during the first two games. Smith-Marsette is seeing the game better and better every week. Since the opener, Smith has gone from a big wide receiver who didn’t use his body much to not only using his body but enveloping defensive backs to catch the call.

The play Smith made last week was a SportsCenter top 10 and looked like an octopus taking a schooner down to the depths.

It was one game, yes. Also, it was a sign of growth for this group. Where it goes from here will carry some variance, but last week was a step in the right direction.

3. The Fant thing — If my wife got on Twitter and wrote about my sloppiness, it’d just be out there for the world. I can’t control that. Obviously, Iowa TE Noah Fant can’t control what his brother, Chris, tweets. Last week, some frustration appeared and Iowa fans freaked out.

You could track Noah’s reaction to it on Instagram, at least a little. He put out some pointedly motivational material. I think he’s frustrated. Yes, I know he leads the team with 19 receptions and five TD receptions. I think he had big dreams for himself this season. I think he sees it as a departure year for an early entry into the NFL draft. I know I would. If Fant gets a combine invite, you’re going to hear his name a lot and in a good, kind of “wow” way. 42-inch vertical leaps tend to have that effect.

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Adding to the frustration this week is the concussion protocol that has him questionable going into this one.

Great players set huge goals for themselves. Maybe we’ll get to talk with him about this at some point. My guess is that he might be frustrated and this probably isn’t that big of a deal.

I’ve been wrong on these types of things before, but that’s my sense.

4. Running game blues — I’m not completely down on the running game. I think it’s been, for the most part, what Iowa has needed it to be in the first half of the season.

The question now has to be if the running game can be one of those “stronger in the fourth quarter” deals that wins a lot of games in the month of November.

Sophomore Toren Young remains Iowa’s leading rusher with 286 yards with 166 of that coming against Northern Illinois and Northern Iowa. He’s 17th in the Big Ten with 57.2 yards a game.

After 72 yards against UNI, Mekhi Sargent has carried six and nine times in the last two games. Ivory Kelly-Martin suffered an ankle injury in the opener and missed two games. He had 72 yards against Wisconsin, but he’s in concussion protocol this week after a hit at Minnesota left him motionless on the turf. He’s questionable this week.

5. Defensive personnel — Injuries have mounted. Teams will start leaning on three-step drops to neutralize Iowa’s best thing, a monstrous pass rush. And Iowa faces a much more spread offense and speed on the back half of its schedule.

Are you nervous about the defense? I could understand that. Linebackers Jack Hockaday, Nick Niemann and Kristian Welch have missed time with injury. Corners Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins have been fighting a couple of different injuries.

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On the flip side, Iowa now has depth at linebacker it didn’t know it had. Djimon Colbert has emerged as a steady starter. And the Hawkeyes lived through starting true freshmen Julius Brents and Riley Moss at Minnesota last week.

And none of the injuries are season-ending, so Iowa should have options. Right now, it’s treading water and waiting out the storm.

Junior safety Amani Hooker has a chance to become a pillar in this defense. He slid over to a linebacker/rover role against the Gophers. He can cover and he can tackle, and defensive coordinator Phil Parker seems to have put a lot of trust in him. Hooker has given Parker every reason to trust him.

If teams do neutralize the D-line’s pass-rushing powers, their job isn’t over. Iowa’s D-line has set a great tone against the run and has set up the linebackers, no matter who they are, for success.

You feel pretty good about betting on Iowa’s defense right now, but margin of error, personnel-wise, is gone. It’s true freshmen next at linebacker.

Prediction

Iowa 31, Indiana 27

Feels like a shootout. Did last week qualify as a shootout? The over/under for Iowa-Minnesota was 41.5. There were 79 points, so, yeah, I lean that it was shootout.

It might come to that this week.

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

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