IOWA CITY, Iowa - The first two weeks of the Iowa Football season have been lit, as the kids say (do they still say that?). The Hawkeyes knocked off two Top 25 teams, the only team in the country that can say that in 2021.
As I wrote in my postgame column following Saturday's 27-17 victory at then No. 9 Iowa State, Iowa goes from the hunter to the hunted after knocking off a pair of squads ranked ahead of it. The Hawkeyes are ranked in the Top 5 in September for the first time since 1985.
First up is Kent State this Saturday (2:30 p.m. CT, BTN). The Golden Flashes come to Kinnick Stadium as Rocky Balboa to Iowa's Apollo Creed. Next week's matchup against Colorado State sets up the same way.
Kent State was picked by MAC coaches and media to win the East Division this fall. It led the country in points per game and total offense a year ago, while playing just four games during a pandemic-impacted campaign.
The Golden Flashes (1-1) come into town ranked 18th nationally in total offense (517.0 YPG) and 42nd in scoring (35.0 PPG). For context, they totaled 698 yards in a 60-10 victory against VMI of the FCS. They fell 41-10 the week before at Texas A&M.
"They're up-tempo. They're going to try to get you out of your gaps, you know, try getting you to second guess your assignments," Iowa defensive end Zach VanValkenburg said. "So, we have to play fundamental football and know where we need to be in order to combat that tempo."
Kent State quarterback Dustin Crum is one of the better players at his position in the MAC, if not the best. He can stress defenses with his arm or legs.
Crum has not faced a defense as stout as the one he'll see at Iowa. The Hawkeyes have swallowed up offenses so far, ranking 15th nationally in points allowed per game (11.5) and 31st in yards yielded per contest (286.0).
The Flashes boast a pair of talented running backs in Marquez Cooper and Xavier Williams, who have combined for 299 yards and a score on 41 carries so far. Crum is averaging 6.8 yards on 19 rushing attempts.
As VanValkenburg said, Kent State likes playing fast, running no-huddle offense in attempting to put defenses on their heels.
"It's dangerous just because if you don't get the call in or see the formation they're set up in they can catch you off guard and get you for a big play," Iowa cornerback Riley Moss said. "So, the main thing for us this week is getting lined up, reading your keys, knowing your responsibility and doing your job.
"They're quick and they'll get you running and you tired. That's part of their scheme on offense. So, we have to be really good with our eyes and recognizing what they're trying to do to us."
The Kent State offense against the Hawkeye defense is strength on strength. The opposite matches phases still trying to find consistency on the Iowa offense and Flashes' defense.
The KSU defense is allowing 437.0 yards per game, which ranks 107th among 130 FBS programs. Iowa's 238.0 yards per game rates 126th among offenses.
While there's concern outside the football complex about Iowa's offense, it has faced two of the better defenses on its schedule this season. Iowa State and Indiana began the week ranked in the Top 30 nationally in yards yielded per game.
If the Hawkeye attack sputters again this week, the hand wringing will be justified. It should be noted that Iowa ranks fifth nationally in turnover margin aided by an offense that's given the ball away just twice with no interceptions.
Ball security is paramount for an Iowa team with a stingy defense and Tory Taylor, the best punter in the country. If it can improve incrementally offensively to take advantage of what the first two phases provide, the Hawkeyes achieve the level of complementary football needed to be successful.
Iowa talked this week about a letdown after two emotional wins. They've been working to avoid that happening.
"Even if it's a MAC team, they're still going to try to come in here and hit us in the mouth. We're taking that and we're going to hit them in the mouth back. It really doesn't matter who it is. It could be a MAC team. It could be Alabama. For all we care, we're going to go out there and do our job and attack them," Moss said.
They key for the Hawkeyes is putting the first two games in the rearview mirror.
"Indiana and Iowa State were great teams but Kent State has got all of our focus right now," Iowa offensive tackle Mason Richman said.
TV ANNOUNCERS: Mark Followill, Anthony Herron and Coley Harvey on BTN.
SERIES: Saturday’s game marks the third all-time meeting between the schools. Both meetings were at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa has outscored the Golden Flashes 80-7 in the two meetings.
The Hawkeyes allowed minus-13 yards rushing to Kent State in 2004, the fewest yards allowed in the Kirk Ferentz era. Iowa ran the ball 60 times in that contest (214 yards), tied for the most rush attempts in the Ferentz era.
Iowa holds an all-time record of 24-4 (.857) against current members of the Mid-American Conference, including a 2-0 mark against Kent State. The Hawkeyes have won five straight against the MAC. The last time a MAC team defeated Iowa was Aug. 31, 2013, when Northern Illinois topped Iowa 30-27 at Kinnick Stadium.
BETTING LINES: The game opened with Iowa as a 21.0-point favorite at Vegas Insiders (VI) on Sunday. That number jumped to 22.5 in the VI consensus on Monday. The total was at 54.5, down from a 57.5 open.
-Kent State is 6-2 Against The Spread (ATS) in its last 8 games as an underdog.
-Golden Flashes are 3-10 ATS in their last 13 vs. Big Ten.
-Iowa is 5-1 ATS in its last 6 games as a favorite.
-Hawkeyes are 2-6 ATS in their last 8 vs. MAC.
KENT STATE PLAYERS TO WATCH
-Dustin Crum, QB – Phil Steele pegged Crum as the first-team preseason all-MAC quarterback. The Grafton, Ohio native completed 73.5 percent of his passes while tossing 12 touchdowns against two interceptions in the Flashes’ four games last season. Through two contests in '21, he's completed 24 of 43 passes for 269 yards and a touchdown against one pick. He's carried the ball 19 times for 130 yards.
–Marquez Cooper, RB – The 5-foot-7, 184-pound Cooper has rushed for 161 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries in a backfield timeshare with Xavier Williams (21-138-0). Cooper led the Flashes in rushing yards (282) and touchdowns (5) in four games last season.
-Bill Kuduk, OT – A second-team, all-MAC pick a year ago, the former Kansas State product landed on Steele's first-team preseason list. He leads a front five all returning from one of the country's best offenses from a statistical standpoint. The Flashes led the nation in scoring and yards per game.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Kent State: It's likely to take some luck and the Hawkeyes being off their game for the Flashes to pull off the upset. That said, they can't turn the ball over and must avoid penalties for any chance.
Iowa: The No. 5 team in the country is heavily favored for a reason. It needs to keep the intensity it played with the last two weeks in Top 25 wins and avoid letting down.
-Kent State leads the FBS with a 360 rushing yard per game average.
-The Flashes rushed for 494 yards in last week's 60-10 win against VMI, the most in a game since 1954. The 494 yards are the most in a game so far in this young FBS season, as do Kent State’s seven rushing touchdowns in a game
-Kent State finished third last year in rushing yards per game averaging 283. This season, they rushed for 494 against VMI and 226 against Texas A & M, the most allowed by the Aggies in nearly two years
-The Kent State defense leads the FBS with eight interceptions.
-Montre Miller and Elvis Hines are tied for second in the NCAA with three picks each.
-Iowa is the only team in the country with two wins over ranked opponents (vs. #17 Indiana, 34-6; at #9 Iowa State, 27-17). The Hawkeyes are ranked No. 5 in the AP poll, their highest ranking since Nov. 29, 2015 (#4).
-Iowa has won its last eight games. The Hawkeyes have outscored their last eight opponents, 275-106, averaging 34.3 points per game offensively and allowing 13.3 ppg during the winning streak. Iowa has scored at least 25 points in every game during its winning streak. It is the first time in school history Iowa has scored 25 points or more in eight straight games.
-The Hawkeyes’ next win at Kinnick Stadium will be their 300th since the stadium opened in 1929. The first game played at Kinnick Stadium was Oct. 5, 1929, a 46-0 Hawkeye win against Monmouth. Iowa will become the seventh Big Ten school to celebrate at least 300 wins in its home stadium.
-Iowa has won 13 straight non-conference games, including 10 regular season non-conference victories and three bowl wins. The win streak ranks second in the country to Minnesota (20). Iowa’s last non-conference loss was at the 2017 Outback Bowl (Florida, 30-3).
-Iowa has played 24 straight games without surrendering 25 points, the longest streak in the nation among Power 5 teams. The Hawkeyes rank No. 2 in the Big Ten in takeaways (7), and No. 3 in scoring defense (11.5) and rush defense (82.0).
Kent State – Bob Lewis
Iowa - Julie Kedzie
HOWE I SEE IT: Truth be told, this game should not be close if Iowa plays anywhere near its potential. Expect something along the lines of what Texas A&M did to Kent State in Week 1, a 41-10 Aggies' victory.
The Hawkeyes hope to start a little faster than A&M, which led only 10-3 at halftime before stretching to 34-3 early in the fourth quarter. The Aggies did not punt in the contest.
There usually is some concern about a team being flat after two emotional wins like Iowa has notched so far. That said, this doesn't look like an outfit primed for a letdown. It appears to be one on a mission.
The Hawkeyes kick start the offense this week and receive another dominating defensive performance. The outcome will be decided by halftime.
PREDICTION: IOWA 45, Kent State 13
Rob Howe has covered Iowa Hawkeye sports for 25 years and began working at HawkeyeNation.com in 2003. Please follow @HawkeyeNation on Twitter and @RobHoweHN