Iowa vs. North Texas Game Preview – 2017 Game 3
THE LOOK BACK: IOWA 44 – IOWA STATE 41 (OT) (09/09/17 – JACK TRICE FIELD, AMES)
Grades: Offense A — Defense C — Special Teams B — OC Brian Ferentz A — DC Phil Parker C — HC Kirk Ferentz P (Pass/Fail).
Iowa retains the Cy-Hawk Trophy in a come-from-behind victory late. It was certainly one of the most exciting games in the revived series. You can argue it was a great game as long as you’re not a fan of defensive football. There were six lead changes and two ties.
Iowa State is showing significant improvement under 2nd-year Head Coach Matt Campbell. But the Hawkeyes demonstrated resilience and proved they can comeback late even on the road in a very hostile environment – something that should be a real confidence-builder going forward this season.
Four of the last seven Iowa-ISU football games have been decided by three points (2011, 2012, 2014, 2017). When Ferentz-coached teams defeat the Cyclones, Iowa averages 8.2 wins per season. Conversely when they lose, Iowa has won just 5.88 games on average. The Hawkeyes have also averaged 10.25 wins in seasons that Ferentz-coached teams have been victorious in Ames.
QB Nate Stanley demonstrated a calmness and composure throughout the game but especially in the 4th Quarter and overtime in Ames, leading the Hawkeyes comeback late and then to the OT win. Stanley’s 4th Quarter production in the first two games: 8-15 passing (53.3%), 133 yards, two touchdowns without a pick, seven 1st downs via the pass, and a whopping 171.81 QB rating. Stanley has also been terrific inside the red zone, resulting in the Hawkeyes being tied for first nationally in red zone production. His 333 yards vs. ISU marked just the fourth time in Iowa history that a QB has thrown for over 300 yards in a game – and the first time since 1988. His recognition as Big Ten Co-Offensive Player-of-the-Week is well-deserved – and comes in just his second game as the starter.
Iowa had three TD drives of 90+ yards and one that went 89 yards. Iowa was 6-6 inside the red zone and converted on seven of 15 third downs. The offense was perfectly balanced in terms of plays: 41 passes and 41 runs.
On Defense, Iowa failed to put much pressure on ISU QB Jacob Park and finished with just one sack. There were too many missed tackles (unlike Week One vs. Wyoming) and the linebackers failed to help out sufficiently in the defensive secondary.
THE LOOK AHEAD: IOWA (2-0) VS. NORTH TEXAS (1-1) (09/16/17 – KINNICK STADIUM, IOWA CITY)
Iowa (2-0, 0-0) returns to Kinnick Stadium Saturday to host the University of North Texas Mean Green (1-1, 0-0) in a Big Ten – Conference USA matchup that closes out the non-conference season for the Hawkeyes. Iowa has defeated Wyoming at home and Iowa State on the road. UNT topped Lamar in its season opening game at home, then lost last week at SMU.
This is only the second time these two teams have faced each other. Iowa won the first game in Iowa City in 2015 by a score of 62-16 when Dan McCarney still coached the Mean Green.
Kirk Ferentz is in his 19th season as the Hawkeyes’ Head Man with a career record of 149-113 and a 137-92 record at Iowa. Seth Littrell is in his second year as the Mean Green’s head coach with a record of 6-9.
This game will be on ESPN2 – that’s back-to-back weeks for Iowa – with announcers Anish Shroff and Ahmad Brooks. As usual, the game will be broadcast on the Hawkeye Radio Network with Gary Dolphin, Ed Podolak, and Rob Brooks. It will also be available on satellite radio: XM Channel 195 and Sirius Channel 135.
The weather forecast for Iowa City on Saturday includes the potential for breaking a 62-year-old record with a high temperature predicted of 91 degrees. Kickoff is set for 2:30 PM.
Ferentz is the longest tenured active head coach in college football. His 137 wins in all games coached as a member of the Big Ten is sixth in conference history. His 82 B1G wins also ranks sixth. Ferentz is just six wins away from tying Hayden Fry as the Hawkeyes’ all-time winningest football coach.
Iowa’s teams under Ferentz have finished in the Associated Press Top 10 five times (so far). Surprisingly, the Hawkeyes did so with first-year starters at quarterback in four of those years (C.J. Beathard last year, Drew Tate in 2004, Nate Chandler in 2003, and Brad Banks in 2002. Of course, Nate Stanley is a first-year starter this season. Another tidbit: Both of Kirk’s Big Ten Championships have been with first-year starting QBs. Just sayin’… But I digress.
Stanley’s eight touchdown passes in his first two games as starter is more than any QB under Ferentz. Those eight TDs also lead the Big Ten and are third nationally.
RB Akrum Wadley is just three yards away from becoming the 15th player in program history to rush for 2000 or more career yards. He accounted for 260 all-purpose yards at Iowa State last week and is averaging 203 all-purpose yards per game – second best in the B1G and fourth nationally.
LB Josey Jewell has a team-leading 21 tackles – which ranks third in the B1G.
Under Littrell, North Texas is 5-0 when his teams lead at halftime but just 1-9 when trailing mid-way through. Littrell took charge of the Mean Green last year, taking over from former Iowa star and assistant coach Dan McCarney, who was fired after suffering through a 1-11 season in 2015.
UNT is averaging 79 plays per game and has gained 53 first downs which ranks 16th best in the country. It had six “explosive” plays of 20 yards or more last week at SMU – all via the pass.
The Mean Green are sitting on 499 program wins, needing just one more to reach the 500 mark.
One of the key questions of the week: Is the North Texas contest essentially the definition of a “trap game” for the Hawkeyes – sandwiched between Iowa State last Saturday and Penn State next week?
Depth Chart Update
The Offensive Line gets juggled due to Ike Boettger’s injury. Sean Welsh slides over to RT, Keegan Render replaces Welsh at RG (he started at C in opener, then played LG vs. ISU). James Daniels is again back at C, and Boone Myers availability remains up in the air. Ferentz also announced this week that true freshman offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs is now in the mix for playing time and he is no longer in line for a red-shirt.
The FB position also remains fluid as both Drake Kulick and Brady Ross played in Ames with the latter named the starter for Saturday.
With Smith-Marsette’s stellar performance, including catching the game-winner in OT, against the Cyclones, he has moved ahead of both Devonte Young and Matt Quarells.
Akrum Wadley revealed, and Kirk Ferentz confirmed, that Ivory Kelly-Martin is the new #1 at KOR (even though Wadley is still listed as the starter). It’s a good decision and part of a conscious move by the coaches to cut back a bit on Wadley’s workload. Matt VandeBerg is still listed as the #1 PR but Josh Jackson, who had that duty in Ames, said fielding punts is a week-to-week decision.
One other note: while Colton Rastetter is still the starting punter, look for Ryan Gersonde sooner rather than later unless Rastetter starts adding some more distance to his kicks.
Kirk Ferentz confirmed Boettger’s injury is an achilles issue and he’s out 4-6 months with a medical redshirt unlikely – pretty tough to swallow in your Senior Year. The resulting juggling in the O-LineRepetitions and significant rotation through spring and fall practices should help ease the transition as a result of the O-Line shakeups.
IOWA OFFENSE VS. NORTH TEXAS DEFENSE
With the weather forecast (heat) and NT’s “Air Raid” Offense, Iowa will want to run the ball, eat time off the clock, and try to keep the Mean Green Offense on the sidelines as much as possible. This may be the most important key to help the Hawkeyes Defense.
The Mean Green runs a 3-4 Defense – something Iowa rarely sees – and is surrendering 379.5 yards and 34.0 points (105th nationally) per game so far this season. NT lost one of its best defenders during pre-season practice: DT Bryce English.
Iowa will also want to try to build an early lead and force NT to play from behind — something it didn’t do well at all last week vs. SMU.
The irony of emphasizing the run game here is that the Hawkeyes appear to be demonstrating that they finally have a number of weapons at both wide receiver and tight end. This comes after a very long dry spell (years) of not appearing to have receivers with sufficient speed to create separation in a somewhat limited passing scheme — all of which allowed opposing defenses to stack the box against the run and dare Iowa to try to beat them through the air.
NT’s defensive secondary has been leaky despite having two solid players back there: S Kishawn McClain (NFL potential) who led the team in tackles last season (91) and CB Nate Brooks (pre-season All-Conference USA).
Against Iowa State, Stanley was stellar: 27-41-333 with five touchdowns and completing passes to nine different receivers. He has thrown for eight TDs in the first two games this season. A real positive in Ames was the performance of Smith-Marsette who caught two touchdown passes, including the game-winner in OT.
Iowa has just one rushing TD – a one yard plunge by RB Akrum Wadley last week in Ames. Wadley accounted for 190 of Iowa’s 497 yards of total offense, and his game-tying 46 yard catch and run TD was electrifying. But look for the Iowa coaches to spread that workload around a bit more vs. NT – you are certainly going to see more of James Butler, maybe Toren Young, and perhaps some others as well.
The other key for Iowa’s Offense is the degree to which its juggled offensive line maintains its cohesiveness. This will be the sixth straight game that Iowa has a different set of O-L starters (counting the last three games in 2016).
IOWA DEFENSE VS. NORTH TEXAS OFFENSE
The North Texas “Air Raid” Offense is averaging 328 passing yards per game through the first two contests this season – that’s 17th nationally. (By comparison, Iowa State’s average is 309 yards and 22nd nationally.) NT ranks 16th nationally with 45.5 points per game and is 9th in total offense averaging 580.5 yards per game. The Mean Green’s time of possession also ranks 14th nationally at 35:28 per game.
NT will generally line up with one RB, four receivers.
Mean Green Sophomore Quarterback Mason Fine (5’11”, 180) has completed 648 yards for six touchdowns in those games. He can hurt opponents with his feet as well as his arm. Last week vs. SMU he was 32-47 passing with three TDs and 424 yards – but he also threw two costly picks.
NT RB Jeffrey Wilson has gained more than 2000 yards rushing in his career despite injuries and this year is averaging 8.5 yards per carry. So far this season he has scored four touchdowns with 25 rushes for 212 yards. NT’s other RB is Nic Smith who has scored a touchdown and accumulated 133 yards rushing as well as catching four passes including one for a TD.
The Mean Green’s leading receivers include: Jalen Guyton (7-172-2) who is averaging 24.5 yards per reception, Michael Lawrence (11-160-1), and Jaleon Darden (5-67-1).
North Texas has had turnover issues, including three last week vs. SMU which led to 21 of the Mustangs’ 54 points. And as noted above, the Mean Green has not been very effective when playing from behind.
Look for the Hawkeyes to flex out of its base 4-3 defense and employ multiple formations with a lot of nickel and dime packages to counteract that passing attack.
Iowa will try to shut down NT’s running game and over-power its smaller, somewhat suspect offensive line forcing the Mean Green to try to beat them through the air. But remember how much Iowa State’s passing game hurt the Hawkeyes. The Hawkeyes will need to have a much better pass rush, compared to what happened at Iowa State where it was largely ineffective. It will be very difficult to keep NT from hitting at least a few big plays – the question is can Iowa keep those from ending up in the end zone.
Heat could be a huge factor Saturday: projected 91° would break a 62-year record. The Hawkeyes Defense could be significantly stressed vs. Mean Green hyper-offense. Iowa’s Defense struggled to get subs in against the Cyclones up-tempo Offense. Subbing in vs. the North Texas Offense could be even more difficult.
Miguel Recinos continues to look steady at PK. But Punter Colton Rastetter could be looking over his shoulder at Ryan Gersonde.
Despite the official Depth Chart, look for RB Ivory Kelly-Martin to continue to field kickoffs and Josh Jackson punts (in place of Wadley and Matt VandeBerg respectively). Ferentz also mentioned that true freshman WR Max Cooper may make an appearance as punt returner.
BIG TEN / NCAA-FBS NOTES
B1G Football Schedules for 2020-21 were released Tuesday. The biggest news for Iowa was replacing Nebraska and the Black Friday game with Wisconsin on a Saturday (unless that is later changed to Black Friday – which is possible but Iowa Athletics Director Gary Barta said there have been no discussions on that so far).
Barta said the changes merely reflect a normal rotation in B1G Scheduling. In the West Division – in addition to Iowa playing Wisconsin rather than the “Black Friday” Game vs. Nebraska – the Huskers will end with Minnesota while Northwestern and Illinois retain their traditional end-of-season rivalry.