IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Iowa-Rutgers contest on Saturday means different things for each program. The Hawkeyes are looking to rebound and rediscover their groove after a loss to North Dakota State. The Scarlet Knights are looking for respect, a victory to show they’re legitimate Big Ten players.
Will Iowa get back on track and look like a true contender in the Big Ten West? Will a first-year Rutgers staff get its biggest win to date? Let’s investigate.
When Iowa has the ball
Iowa is expected to get starting center James Daniels and offensive guard Sean Welsh back on Saturday. Running back Akrum Wadley (knee) said he’s healthy enough to receive more than the 4 carries he received last week.
Will it be enough to get the running game going again?
It very well may be against Rutgers. Iowa gained only 34 rushing yards on North Dakota State last week. Rutgers isn’t a stout run defense. Opponents are averaging 178.0 yards per game and 4.3 yards per carry on the ground.
Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard and wide receiver Matt VandeBerg continue to be one of the best quarterback-wide receiver combos in the Big Ten. They’ve combined 15 times for 267 yards and 3 touchdowns through the air. This could be a big advantage for Iowa. Rutgers is inexperienced on the back end and Rutgers free safety Saquan Hampton isn’t expected to play.
Pass blocking is a concern for Iowa coming out of the North Dakota State game. If Iowa wants to show it’s made progress it can start by keeping Beathard upright and containing arguably Rutgers best defender, defensive lineman Julian Pinnix-Odrick. He leads the team with 20 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks.
Rutgers has given up 59 first-quarter points. It will be in Iowa’s best interests to get off to a fast start against a defense that plays better the longer a game goes. The Scarlet Knights gave up only 21 second-half points in their first three games.
When Rutgers has the ball
Meet Robert Martin. The running back is turning into the centerpiece of the Rutgers offense.
The kid has some speed. He should be of central concern to Iowa. The Scarlet Knights will look to get him the ball. Martin has rushed for 252 yards in two games. He’s averaging 6.8 yards per carry.
Rutgers offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer is a disciple of Tom Herman, the Houston head coach and former Ohio State offensive coordinator. The run game matters in this offense and offensive line coach A.J. Blazek is getting the guys up front to open some holes.
Iowa needs to be concerned about the Rutgers rushing attack. The Hawkeyes were gashed by North Dakota State last week for 239 rushing yards.
Iowa also needs to be concerned with wide receiver Janarion Grant. The Scarlet Knights will try to get him the ball in a multitude of ways.
Grant, a second-team All-Big Ten selection last season, leads Rutgers with 12 receptions for 112 yards. He also is second on the team with 143 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns. He also threw a touchdown pass this season.
Rutgers playmakers can hurt Iowa if given the opportunity, but the passing game is struggling. Rutgers quarterback Chris Laviano is completing only 51.7 percent of his tosses and is averaging 152.3 passing yards per game.
Rutgers is scoring 34.0 points per game, but feasted on lower-level teams. In its one game against a Power 5 opponent it scored only 13 points on No. 9 Washington.
The Scarlet Knights must prove they can move the ball against an opponent like Iowa as well as they did against Howard and New Mexico.
This is one of the best return matchups in the Big Ten all season.
There is Iowa’s Desmond King. He is averaging 27.5 yards per kickoff return and 8.8 yards per punt return. King averaged 14.2 yards per punt return last season.
There is Grant. He has already taken one kickoff return and one punt return for a touchdown this season. He’s averaging 32.5 yards per kick return and 16.0 yards per punt return.
Grant is off to the better start this season. It’s hard to see a path to victory for Rutgers that doesn’t include a big play or two from Grant in the return game.
One way for Iowa to neutralize Grant is with the leg of punter Ron Coluzzi. Ten of his 13 punts have been fair caught. Ensuring coverage is in place and Grant doesn’t have a chance at a return is the best defense against him.
Rutgers has allowed a punt return for a touchdown this season. The opportunity could be there for King, but it’s impossible to overlook Grant’s production.
Rutgers coach Chris Ash is entering his first Big Ten game.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is entering his 138th Big Ten game, including last year’s conference title game.
There is a decided edge in experience for the Iowa staff. Ash, from Ottumwa, Iowa, is considered an up-and-comer in the coaching profession, but he’s still trying to build a reputation as a head coach. Ferentz comes into the game with one.
This is the first meeting between these programs. It may not be a memorable one. North Dakota State put a blueprint together on how to attack Iowa by controlling the line and running away from Iowa middle linebacker Josey Jewell. Rutgers must show it has the horses to execute it on both sides of the line.
This looks like the kind of game where Iowa holds a distinct advantage when it will have the ball. That’s a problem that may be too much for the Scarlet Knight to overcome.
Bobby La Gesse’s prediction: Iowa 38, Rutgers 21
Scott Dochterman’s prediction: Iowa 38, Rutgers 20