WHO: Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-0, 0-0 B1G)
WHEN: Saturday, September 7
WHERE: Kinnick Stadium (Iowa City, IA)
KICKOFF: 11:00 AM Central
ONLINE: Fox Sports Go
RADIO: Hawkeye Sports Network (check local listings); TuneIn
ODDS: Iowa -19.5
WEATHER: cloudy, temperatures in the mid-upper 70s, 20 chance of rain
Iowa and Rutgers have met only once previously, back in 2016. Iowa ventured to New Jersey and beat the Scarlet Knights in an utterly forgettable 14-7 game. Did you remember that Brandon Snyder had a particularly good game in that win? Of course not. Did you remember that Akrum Wadley scored the game-winning touchdown? Probably not! I was at that game and I didn't remember those details. Iowa-Rutgers has produced some memorable moments in other sports, like Joe Wieskamp's unreal game-winner or Austin DeSanto's last-second upset over Nick Suriano, but it's been a real dud in football... based on the, uh, one time they've played so far.
RUTGERS SEASON RECAP
Rutgers beat UMass in Week One, 48-21. After spotting the Minutemen early 14-0 and 21-7 leads, Rutgers exploded for 31 points in the second quarter to take a 38-21 halftime lead. They only added 10 points in the second half, but their defense kept UMass from doing anything for the final 3/4 of the game.
Rutgers scored 48 points in their season opener last week. That's a lot of points! It's especially a lot of points for the Rutgers offense, which has been notably anemic in recent years. They haven't scored at least 48 points since putting 65 on Morgan State almost two years ago; the most points they managed last year was 35 points in their season-opening (and only) win, against Texas State. In fact, that was the only game in which they even managed to score at least 20 points; they were held to 10 or fewer points five times. They even managed to score all those points last week against an ostensible FBS opponent, UMass. Which is a roundabout way of saying the Scarlet Knight offense might have some friskiness to it this year that hasn't been apparent for a while.
Grad transfer McLane Carter, formerly of Texas Tech, was the engine behind that offensive outburst, slicing and dicing the Minutemen through the air for 340 yards and two touchdowns on 21/30 passing. He also threw for three interceptions, though, so it wasn't all good news for the Rutgers passing attack in Week One. His favorite target was running back Raheem Blackshear (5-9, 192), who had nine receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown. Junior receiver Bo Melton (5-11, 191) was also productive, with 127 yards and a score on six grabs. They were the top options in Rutgers' passing game last year, for what little that was worth -- Blackshear led the team in receptions (44), yards (367), and receiving touchdowns 92) last year and Melton was second in catches (28) and yards (245).
The strength of Rutgers' offense is at running back, where Blackshear and Isaih Pacheco form a potentially potent one-two punch. Blacksheer was much more effective as a pass-catcher than a pure runner last week (he had just 39 yards on 12 carries versus UMass), but he led the team in carries (143) and rushing yards (586) last season. Pacheco was pure dynamite against UMass -- he had 156 yards and four (!) touchdowns on 20 carries, a sizzling 7.8 yards per carry. He was also the more explosive options last year, leading the team with 4.96 yards per carry. Iowa bottled up the Miami (OH) ground game pretty effectively, but Blackshear and (especially) Pacheco ought to present a much more formidable threat.
Bad news (for Rutgers): Rutgers gave up 21 points to UMass in the first quarter last week, including two completely legitimate, 75-yard drives. Good news (for Rutgers): the other scoring drive came on a short field after a turnover and they completely put the clamps on the Minutemen over the final three quarters. UMass' last ten drives: punt, punt, punt, interception, end of half, punt, punt, turnover on downs, interception, turnover on downs. Almost two-thirds of UMass' total yards for the game (194 of 304) came in the first quarter.
Rutgers' defense wasn't the worst in the Big Ten last year (that would be Illinois), but it was pretty bad. They were second-to-last in scoring defense and rushing defense and ninth in total defense. They also forced the second-fewest turnovers in the league (15), which was a real problem when they conceded the most turnovers in the league (29). Rutgers was still leaky in run defense against UMass last week, giving up 183 yards on 34 carries (5.4 yards per carry). They also had some problems getting off the field on third downs, allowing UMass to convert on third down on 7 of 17 opportunities a week ago; Iowa converted 9/14 third down tries last week (and made 43% of their attempts in 2018).
The Scarlet Knights graduated five of their top seven tacklers from a season ago, but that might end up being a bit of an addition-by-subtraction situation, given the state of their defense last year. At the very least, though, this year's defense is less experienced. Junior linebackers Tyshon Fogg and Olakunie Fatukasi are their top tacklers, with 11 and 8, respectively, against UMass. Elorm Lumor, an OLB/DE hybrid, led the team with four sacks last year and he had one against UMass last week as well.
MATCH-UP TO WATCH
Iowa should have an advantage on the ground, given Rutgers' shaky run defense, but the key to this potentially being an Iowa blowout could be the aerial attack. Rutgers gave up just 186.7 yards per game through the air last year, while allowing opposing passers to complete only 55.6% of their passes. They did give up 21 touchdowns and force just nine interceptions, but they still posed some problems to teams trying to move the ball through the air. UMass completed just 22/37 passes (59%) for 121 yards, a sickly 3.3 yards per pass.
Nate Stanley spread the ball around well last week -- 21/30 to 10 different pass-catchers for 252 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. If he can match that effectiveness through the air, this should be an easy rout. If Rutgers can slow him down, though, this game could make us sweat much longer than we'd like.
WHAT WE WANT TO SEE
Iowa got good balance on offense last week, with 252 yards through the air and 213 yards on the ground. 400+ yards of offensive production would again be nice, but we'll settle for Iowa having success on the ground and in the air and not letting Rutgers make them one-dimensional. On defense, let's see some more turnovers. Iowa only forced one against the RedHawks last week, but a few interceptions or forced fumbles could make things much easier on Saturday.
Is the "real" Iowa the one that sputtered for the first half against Miami (OH)? Or is it the team that pushed the RedHawks around at will in the second half and cruised to an easy win? We certainly hope it's the latter, but odds are we'll see more stretches of the team that showed up in the first half, too. How long those stretches last and how frequent they are will likely determine how ugly this game is. That 20-game spread looks awfully big; I think Iowa wins, but they don't get a comfortable lead until the fourth quarter.
IOWA 34, RUTGERS 17