Iowa Football

Iowa vs. Miami (Ohio): The Big Analysis

The curtain goes up on a highly anticipated season

The Iowa Hawkeyes swarm as they take the field before their NCAA football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sep. 15, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
The Iowa Hawkeyes swarm as they take the field before their NCAA football game at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City on Saturday, Sep. 15, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
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Miami (Ohio) (0-0, 0-0 Mid-American Conference) comes to Kinnick Stadium to face the 19th-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes (0-0, 0-0 Big Ten).

The RedHawks won five of their last seven games to finish 6-6 in 2018 and become bowl eligible for the second time in three seasons. That’s a good deal for Miami. The school had been to just one bowl in nine seasons before head coach Chuck Martin’s arrival.

The Hawkeyes also have a three-game winning streak headed into 2019. The bowl game is over now and it’s time to keep track all over again.

Kickoff on Saturday is at 6:40 p.m. at Kinnick Stadium. The game is on FS1.

Rolling with the RedHawks

1. Quarterback? — The RedHawks said goodbye to Gus Ragland. No, he wasn’t the character on “Breaking Bad,” he was a pretty good three-year starter for Miami, with more than 6,000 career passing yards and 56 TD passes.

The three candidates — Jackson Williams, A.J. Mayer and Brett Gabbert — have combined for zero collegiate passes thrown. Brett Gabbert is Blaine Gabbert’s brother, so there’s that.

“You have to go through it in life,” Miami coach Chuck Martin said. “Let’s find out who we are. Let’s put them in an arena that’s very difficult and it’s not even a big crowd at Iowa on a Saturday night and it’s noisy, it’s the Iowa defense.”

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2. Running back? — The RedHawks lost a pair of backs in Kenny Young and Alonzo Smith. They combined for 4,602 yards and 31 TDs in their careers.

Junior Jaylon Bester is No. 1. He rushed for 185 yards last year. Since becoming Miami’s head coach in 2014, Martin’s offenses have improved in running the ball every year, topping out at 159.8 last season. Also, the RedHawks lost three starters on the offensive line. That will be a new left tackle across from defensive end A.J. Epenesa.

3. Defense? — The defense was led by linebacker Brad Koenig and his 102 tackles last season. So, who’s there?

Nose tackle Doug Costin had 6.0 sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss last season. At 6-2, 295, Costin will be a terrific first test for new Iowa center Tyler Linderbaum. Linebackers Myles Reid and Ryan McWood will give the second level experience. Leading tackler Mike Brown returns at safety.

4. Experienced specialists — Punter Kyle Kramer, kicker Sam Sloman and return specialists Maurice Thomas and Bester return to one of the best special teams units in the MAC. Martin’s teams aren’t all that different from Kirk Ferentz’s. He wants to run the ball, rely on defense and steal plays and yards in special teams.

5. Relevant numbers — Two is a good place to start. Two former Hawkeyes defensive backs — Manny Rugamba and Cedric Boswell — are corners for the RedHawks. Rugamba is listed as the starter. There also are two Iowans in Miami’s offensive line depth chart. Pete Nank (West Des Moines Dowling) is listed as a starter at left guard. Andrew Todd (Cedar Rapids Washington) is listed at No. 2 center. Explosive plays were scarce for Iowa’s running game last year. The RedHawks were a respectable 43rd in the nation with just 54 plays of 20-plus yards allowed in 2018.

Hanging with the Hawkeyes

1. OK, one guard is out — Junior Cole Banwart broke into the lineup last season for the most part. Injuries got to him. He missed five games with a leg injury. Head coach Kirk Ferentz announced Tuesday the Ottosen native is doubtful for Saturday. How big of a deal is this?

If Levi Paulsen ends up selling insurance in his post-football life, it will be because he’s spent much of his five years at Iowa as the insurance policy on the offensive line. This hasn’t been a road to glory or the NFL, but take a second to appreciate what it means to have non-starters still drilled into the work and pushing to be ready.

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2. Remember the “Shawon-O-Meter?” — Quarterback Nate Stanley is in the top 10 QBs of all time at Iowa (minimum of 2,000 passing yards). In that top 10, Stanley has the second-lowest completion percentage. He goes into his final year leading C.J. Beathard, .584 to .581.

Completion percentage absolutely computes into effective QB play. You won’t find many QBs with a sub-60 percent completion percentage and a high pass efficiency rating.

It’s also not just the completion percentage. There’s ball placement and decision making. All of that has to work together for Stanley in 2019. Going through the “media days” portion of the year, Stanley is well aware of his numbers here. He was reminded a lot.

3. Which freshman running back? — Yes, right now, you’re thinking, “Why not both?” Why not give Shadrick Byrd and Tyler Goodson carries? Well, you know there are at least two reasons. When offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz talks football, there isn’t much hiding. He said juniors Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young were the best two backs in camp. Head coach Kirk Ferentz said there are few freshmen in contention for position play, but Byrd and Goodson were among them. With news of Henry Geil’s departure on Wednesday, the Hawkeyes are down to five scholarship running backs. If that’s not enough, see you at the Holiday Bowl.

Read more:Iowa assumes the 'running back by committee' position

4. How much 4-2-5/cash? — This will be a fair question most of the season. Miami has tight ends and might be able to try to play heavy vs. Iowa’s front. Beyond that, the simple question is how strong is the cash position? Cornerback D.J. Johnson has held the job throughout the offseason, but there also were a lot of players giving the position a shot. When teams force Iowa to play heavy, you’re probably looking at a linebacker trio of Kristian Welch, Djimon Colbert and Nick Niemann.

5. Relevant numbers — The Hawkeyes used two or more tight ends in formation in more than 60 percent of their snaps last season. With more experience lining up at wide receiver than tight end, you might see more 11 personnel (one back, one TE and three WRs). The Hawkeyes ran that formation 22 percent of snaps last season. The theory that Epenesa got all of the pass-rush snaps last season is not true. He piled up 244 snaps in those situations. Anthony Nelson led Iowa with 346. So, there’s still gold in those hills.

Prediction

Iowa 34, Miami (Ohio) 7

What was the line again? Oh, 21.5. Good luck with that.

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

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