Game Preview: Rutgers Scarlet Knights
It's time for Big Ten football! This Saturday, Iowa will begin its quest toward a Big Ten title as it welcomes the Rutgers Scarlet Knights to beautiful and historic Kinnick Stadium. Iowa enters the contest ranked 20th in the AP poll and 19th in the Coaches Poll after dominating Miami (OH) en route to a 38-14 victory. Rutgers comes to Iowa City off of a Week 1 48-21 victory over the Minutemen of UMass. Iowa is listed as a 20 point favorite as of Thursday night.
Iowa's Offense Against The Scarlet Knight Defense
Iowa could be poised to have a solid day behind running backs Mehki Sargent and Toren Young. UMass accumulated 183 rushing yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground against Rutgers in Week 1 and consistently pushed a smaller Scarlet Knight defensive line downfield. I look for Sargent to eclipse 100 yards and be the main cog in an offensive performance similar to what we saw against Miami (OH). I don't look for Iowa to try to generate many downfield throws, keeping those opportunities in their pocket, as they may need them next week against Iowa State. Nate Stanley should have another solid performance and continue to inch closer to the all-time touchdown passes record at the University of Iowa. Iowa should dominate this matchup and I expect them to come out quicker than they did against the Redhawks
Iowa's Defense Against The Scarlet Knight Offense
The more I look at this game, the more I think Iowa may have their hands full with this Rutgers offense. Quarterback (and Texas Tech transfer) McLane Carter settled in after a rough start in Week 1 and showed that he can lead the Scarlet Knight offense despite 3 interceptions against the Minutemen. Running back Isaih Pacheco was always somebody that I thought Iowa was going to have to contain, and he did not disappoint in Week 1, accumulating 156 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. In addition to Pacheco, Rutgers has wide receiver Bo Melton and pass catching running back/playmaker Raheem Blackshear, who accumulated 127 and 126 receiving yards respectively and accounted for 1 touchdown each.
On the flip side, Iowa has the opportunity to inflict a lot of damage against this Rutgers offense. Carter is a left handed quarterback and will see A.J. Epenesa barreling toward him on pass plays. That can only help to make the Scarlet Knight quarterback antsy and may help to magnify the propensity to turn the ball over he demonstrated in Week 1. If Iowa is to be successful, the defensive backs will have to be better and limit big plays produced by the Rutgers offense, specifically by Melton and Blackshear. In the run game, Pacheco may break off a couple of bigger runs, but I expect the Iowa defense to limit his effectiveness and keep him under 100 yards on the day. I also expect Rutgers to run more 3 and 4 wide receiver sets and Iowa to counter with more of the 5 defensive back sets that we saw through fall practice. Iowa should have a solid day in this matchup and hold the Scarlet Knights to 2 touchdowns or less.
I don't know a ton about Rutgers' special teams, as they didn't get many opportunities a week ago and I don't expect them to make much of an impact in this one. We may get a little more clarity this week as to whether Iowa is employing a true platoon at field goal kicker, or if Keith Duncan is the guy moving forward. I would also like to continue to see growth in the kickoff game from Caleb Shudak, and if Michael Sleep-Dalton gets some opportunities this week, I look for him to be much better than his one attempt a week ago.
Nico Rigaini is likely to continue to be consistent in punt returning and handle most of those duties. Ihmir Smith-Marsette should continue to get opportunities in the kick return game until he proves that teams can't give him those chances.
Although I am more convinced of Rutgers' ability to compete in this one than I was at the beginning of the season, I still think Iowa wins comfortably. The Iowa running backs should have a monster game and could have an opportunity to get 2 guys over the 100 yard mark. Nate Stanley will have opportunities when he wants to take them in the pass game. The defense will have their hands full with Pacheco, Blackshear, and Melton, but should still have a solid day. I look for Epenesa to create pressure and be more noticeable than he was a week ago. I expect the defensive backs to have a bounce back game as well and I think they could have a big day generating turnovers from quarterback McLane Carter
As always, On Iowa! and Go Hawks!
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