Iowa vs. Miami (Ohio) matchup: Close your eyes, grit your teeth and wince
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Iowa and Miami (Ohio) finalized a two-game contract between the football programs in April 2013. Both teams were 4-8 the previous season, so there appeared to be no disadvantage to the deal. Iowa is paying $1 million for this game, and $1.2 million for their next meeting in 2019.
Count on Iowa getting its money’s worth this Saturday with upward of 10 true freshmen seeing action. The No. 15 Hawkeyes won 12 games last year, and Miami won three. Considering the uneven nature of the Big Ten and Mid-American conferences, this matchup screams “crunch” like the sound of a bug greeting a windshield.
When Iowa has the ball
Iowa averaged 4.5 yards a carry last year and blasted through for 35 rushing touchdowns, and the Hawkeyes’ 181.7 yards per game was the second most since 2002. Miami (Ohio) allowed 27 rushing touchdowns and 4.2 yards per carry.
Two of Iowa’s top three running backs return: LeShun Daniels (646 yards, 4.5 yards per carry, 8 TDs) and Akrum Wadley (496 yards, 6.0 yards per carry, 7 TDs). Plus, quarterback C.J. Beathard ran for six scores himself. Iowa returns five offensive linemen with starting experience, including four who started at least six games. Miami counters with six returning starters from its 4-3 defense but lost its top two tacklers.
Beathard was a second-team all-Big Ten selection last year with 2,809 passing yards, 17 touchdowns and five interceptions. But more than statistics, Beathard’s intangibles of getting Iowa in and out of plays ignite the offense. Miami does return talented defensive end J.T. Jones (6-foot-3, 246 pounds), who had 10 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss last year.
When Miami has the ball
The RedHawks struggled to run the football last year with only seven rushing touchdowns and a 3.6 yards-per-carry average. Both numbers are the lowest among Iowa’s 12 opponents this fall. Miami returns its top six rushers, including sophomore starter Alonzo Smith (5 feet 9, 225 pounds), who ran for 498 yards and five touchdowns last year.
The Hawkeyes were among the nation’s stingiest run defenses, ranking 15th with 121.4 yards allowed. Iowa brings back seven starters, led by physical run stopper Jaleel Johnson (6-4, 310) and middle linebacker Josey Jewell (6-3, 235), who ranked 15th nationally with 126 tackles. The Hawkeyes boast perhaps the Big Ten’s best cornerback tandem with four-year starter Desmond King and three-year opener Greg Mabin. King tied the school record with eight interceptions last year and was named the Jim Thorpe Award winner as the top defensive back. As a team, Iowa led the Big Ten with 19 interceptions.
Miami’s passing game struggled with now-sophomore Billy Bahl opening the final seven games. Bahl (6-4, 248) completed just 44.5 percent of his passes for eight touchdowns and 13 interceptions. While Miami’s top eight receivers return, facing the staunch Iowa secondary poses a significant challenge.
Both teams lost their punter and kicker from last season. Iowa compensated with graduate transfer Ron Coluzzi from Central Michigan and true freshman Keith Duncan. Miami kicker Nick Dowd played in 10 games last year when he booted a 22-yard field goal. RedHawks punter Justin Martin was on the team but did not play last year.
For Miami, Maurice Thomas averaged 17.3 in kickoff returns a year ago while punter returner Jared Murphy averaged 8.7. King handles both duties for Iowa, averaging 14.2 yards on punts and 24.4 yards on kickoffs.
Both teams have veteran coaches who have experienced success at different levels. Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz was named national coach of the year last year by three different respected groups. He enters his 18th season and has won Big Ten Coach of the Year four times, more than any other person save Michigan’s Bo Schembechler. Ferentz’s 127 victories are second in Iowa history behind Hayden Fry (143) and his 76 Big Ten wins are tied for seventh in league history.
Chuck Martin succeeded Brian Kelly at Division II Grand Valley State and was part of a team that won four national titles over a five-year period, including twice while he was head coach. After 2009, he joined Kelly at Notre Dame as an assistant coach, including two seasons as offensive coordinator. He took over at Miami in 2014 and has a 5-19 record the last two seasons. His squad is improving, and Martin is a terrific coach.
A couple of local tie-ins: Miami offensive coordinator Eric Koehler was head coach at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, in 2006-07. Miami defensive line coach Corey Brown played at Iowa from 1995-99, and was a starting defensive tackle on Ferentz’s first team.
There are plenty of games on Iowa’s schedule that have the potential for an upset. Next week against Iowa State, per usual, or the following game against five-time FCS champion North Dakota State. I could spin a scenario where any team in the Big Ten could bite them under the right circumstances. But only a bus accident from Cedar Rapids to Iowa City would keep Iowa from winning big on Saturday. Miami has no single area where it could consistently disrupt Iowa on either side of the ball. Martin wants his team to play tough, but Iowa prides itself on physicality. The point spread is 27.5 in Iowa’s favor, and ,if the Hawkeyes wanted to double it, they could.
The only real drama is whether Iowa true freshman quarterback Nathan Stanley will play in a reserve role. We could find that answer by the third quarter.
Prediction: Iowa 52, Miami (Ohio) 6