Iowa Football

No. 14 Iowa vs. Middle Tennesee: The Big Analysis

Hawkeyes host Conference USA's Blue Raiders in return from bye week

No. 14 Iowa hosts Middle Tennessee this Saturday at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. (The Gazette)
No. 14 Iowa hosts Middle Tennessee this Saturday at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. (The Gazette)

Random thoughts on Saturday’s Iowa (3-0) vs. Middle Tennessee (1-2) game at Kinnick Stadium:

Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

— O’Hara does, oh, everything: That’s Asher O’Hara, MTSU’s sophomore quarterback. He transferred from College of DuPage, where he faced Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon in a junior-college game. Nixon was at Iowa Western.

“I know how aggressive he is,” Nixon said of O’Hara. “We’ve just got to contain him, figure out ways to slow him down and keep him in the pocket. If we can keep him in the pocket, then I feel like we’ve got a good chance to contain him.”

O’Hara can throw it. Everyone knows what. He has completed 63 of 89 passes in three games this season for 785 yards and five touchdowns.

But he also is MTSU’s top rusher, with 202 yards and a touchdown. The kid’s a true dual threat, and it’ll be interesting to see how Iowa’s defense, especially its banged-up secondary, will be able to deal with O’Hara and four wides on just about every play.

— Lee looks for a record: Senior wide receiver Ty Lee is on the verge of setting a school record at Middle Tennessee. A Moultrie, Ga., native, Lee has been able to catch at least one pass in 43 consecutive games for the Blue Raiders. That’s the longest current streak in NCAA Division I. With one reception against the Hawkeyes, Lee will outright own the school mark for catches in most consecutive games with 44.

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The diminutive Lee (he’s 5-foot-9) has a team-leading 12 grabs in three games this season for 135 yards and a touchdown.

— Getting it done in the classroom. Both schools: Middle Tennessee has 14 players who already have earned their ungraduate degrees. That number ranks seventh nationally.

On the other hand, Iowa has 10 players who already have graduated, with those 10 wearing a celebratory decal on their respective helmet for game. The graduated 10 for the Hawkeyes are tight end Drew Cook, defensive back John Milani, offensive lineman Landan Paulsen, offensive lineman Levi Paulsen, punter Colton Rastetter, defensive tackle Brady Reiff, fullback Brady Ross, quarterback Ryan Schmidt, long snapper Jackson Subbert and tight end Nate Wieting.

Iowa Hawkeyes

— Who gets the most work in the backfield?: An educated guess here is junior Mekhi Sargent. He’s had the most touches (carries and receptions) of Iowa’s four-headed monster and said he was perfectly healthy after injuring a hand/wrist the practice prior to the Iowa State game two weeks ago.

Ivory Kelly-Martin actually got the first carry of the ISU game. He played only one play in the opener against Miami (Ohio) but has gradually gotten more work.

Read more: Iowa’s running back by committee approach is working just fine

Expect to see Toren Young try to bull his way around and through a softish Middle Tennessee run defense that has allowed all three of its opponents to rush for 200-plus yards. If the score gets out of hand, perhaps even true freshman Shadrick Byrd will see some time.

Who knows?

— Can we get a pass rush?: Nixon represented the defensive linemen at Tuesday’s media session and said one of the areas of improvement from his group needs to be getting to the quarterback.

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Iowa has three sacks this season: one by A.J. Epenesa, one by Amani Jones and one by Kristian Welch. Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz didn’t necessarily buy into Nixon’s opinion.

“I don’t know if that’s a totally fair assessment,” he said. “You always want more. You can always do better and always want more, but I think we’re doing some good things up front, and guys are working hard at it, and we’ll just keep working up there and keep digging and hopefully as you go along get a little bit better. I think they are doing a fine job, so far.”

— How is this whole secondary thing going to work?: Iowa is banged up big time physically in the secondary. Safety Kaevon Merriweather is expected to miss this game, as is cornerback Matt Hankins. Cornerbacks Riley Moss and Julius Brents haven’t played at all this season after getting a ton of playing time last season as true freshmen.

Middle Tennessee is going to spread the Hawkeyes out. Four wide receivers will be employed, no tight ends, one back in a shotgun formation.

Iowa probably will go with its traditional 4-3 look.

“Biggest thing is our guys that are out there are going to have to play with great position and technique, and that’s really what it gets down to,” Ferentz said. “It goes back to, you know, back in 2000 against Northwestern, we had that discussion. I was pretty sure we would go sub (package), and (defensive coordinator Norm Parker) stayed regular defense.

“He knew what he was doing, because at that point that was our best chance to win. The key thing is making sure the guys that are out there play smart. To think that an outside linebacker is going to run play after play after play with a fast receiver is probably not good coaching. Just be smart how you do it, and play a defense that’s going to give everybody a chance to be successful.”

Iowa-Middle Tennessee prediction

If you are ever in Murfreesboro (home of Middle Tennessee), stop in at Spinelli’s and get the Walk of Shame pizza. It’s eggs, cheese, potatoes and your choice of sausage, bacon or ham. Veggies are available upon request.

Iowa 35, Middle Tennessee 21

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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