IOWA CITY, Iowa - Iowa is coming off a 27-0 victory against Nevada that saw its offense show signs of life for the first time this season. Now it finds out if it can hold those gains versus one of the country's top-ranked defenses.
The Hawkeyes hit the road for the first time in 2022 on Saturday when it travels half way across to the country to take on Rutgers in the Big Ten opener for both teams. The Scarlet Knights are allowing just 14.0 points and 240.4 yards per game.
Rutgers sits at 3-0 with road wins at Boston College and Temple, and a home victory versus Wagner. Iowa owns triumphs against South Dakota State and Nevada, and a loss to Iowa State.
The Scarlet Knights are seeking to end a 19-game losing streak at home in conference play. Their last victory at home came against Maryland in November of '17.
"We just take every game one game at a time," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said on Monday. "We are trying to be 1-0 at the end of this week. So what's happened in the past, I think when people do that, you put yourself in a bad position, start looking back or looking forward. We are just here to chop the moment."
Iowa is ranked last in the conference in total offense (217.7 yards per game). Rutgers (369.3) is only one spot ahead of the Hawkeyes. Early season returns from these two teams point to a battle of the defenses and special teams.
"I wish it was one thing. You know, that would be an easier fix," Schiano said of his offense. "But I do think there is some common all I think on some of the things, right. We need to just continue to get better at what we do technique wise and that may sound like why don't you just do it. Because there's a lot going on and then there's this other thing, the guy on the other side trying to kick your rear end in.
"There's a lot to get down for a group of guys that have not played together. But we're going to be okay. Yeah, I'm confident on that."
Those comments probably sound familiar to Hawkeye fans, who have been hearing similar about their offense from their coaches and players this season.
The Scarlet Knight quarterback position is unsettled. Heralded redshirt freshman Gavin Wimsett is questionable for this week after starting the team's first two games. Evan Simon could be the opener for a second game in a row or maybe it's veteran Noah Vedral, who hasn't played this season because of an injury.
Rutgers rates second to last in the league in passing yards a game at 142.0. The Hawkeyes are in the basement (125.3).
"It's a challenge," Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell said. "You need to know the differences between all three of them. It's knowing what little things they do differently, what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses. It puts a little bit more on your plate."
The Scarlet Knights are spreading the ball around in the rushing game. Wimsett is a threat when healthy. Al-Shadee Salaam (45.7 YPG) and Kyle Monangai (44.0) are getting the most work. Aron Cruickshank leads the pass-catchers with 11 receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown.
Iowa could have a tough time running the ball Saturday. Rutgers ranks second nationally against the rush, allowing just 32.2 yards per game on the ground. The Hawkeyes yield just 77.0, 15th in the country.
"They hold their gaps well," Iowa offensive tackle Mason Richman said. "They play a little bit like our guys here. They play a field-under defense, and their three-technique and interior guys hold those gaps really well. The key for us is to just play our game."
A big crowd is expected at SHI Stadium for this game, which will played under the lights. Schiano believes his team could use the support this week.
"Iowa is a different program. They are an established Big Ten program," he said. "Coach (Kirk) Ferentz is certainly the dean of the league, but he's one of the best coaches in America, period, and his program continually, there's consistency year-in, year-out, and you know exactly what you're going to get.
"They play very hard. They are physical. They are technically sound. So it's a great challenge for our guys, great challenge for our coaching staff. You put all that together and throw it in this Saturday night, wearing red to the game and packing the place, that's what college football is all about."
TV ANNOUNCERS: Noah Eagle and Mark Helfrich on FS1.
SERIES: Saturday’s game is the third all-time meeting between Iowa and Rutgers. The Hawkeyes are 2-0 against the Scarlet Knights, winning 14-7 in Piscataway, New Jersey, in 2016 and30-0 in Kinnick Stadium in 2019.
The Hawkeyes allowed just five first downs, 47 passing yards and 125 yards total offense during the most recent meeting in 2019.
BETTING LINES: Iowa opened as a 7.5-point favorite in Vegas Insider consensus Sunday night. It remained there on Monday. The total opened at 35.5 and stuck there Monday morning with the exception of Fan Duel, which had it at 34.5.
-Rutgers is 6-1 Against The Spread (ATS) in its last 7 games in September.
-Under is 9-3 in Scarlet Knights last 12 conference games.
-Iowa is 6-2-1 ATS in its last 9 road games.
-Under is 4-0 in Hawkeyes last 4 games overall.
RUTGERS PLAYERS TO WATCH
-Aron Cruickshank, WR/Returns – A member of the Paul Hornung Award watch list as one of the most versatile players in the country. Owns 3,300 career all-purpose yards (2,216 kickoff return, 624 receiving, 272 rushing, 188 punt return) in 45 games to rank 13th among active FBS players. The 2,404 combined kick return yards are second-most nationally.
-Wesley Bailey, DE – Bailey ranks 31st nationally and fourth in the Big Ten with 0.83 sacks per game. His 3.5 tackles for loss are good for 10th in the conference. He also has two quarterback hurries, a pass breakup and a fumble recovery.
-Robert Longerbeam, CB – The sophomore from Virginia's two interceptions tie him for first in the Big Ten. He also has one pass breakup, two tackles for loss and a sack to his credit.
KEYS TO VICTORY
Rutgers: Force the Iowa offense to travel 70+ yards for touchdowns, slow down the run and don't turn the ball over.
Iowa: Find success in the running game, create turnovers and take care of the football.
-Rutgers seeks to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. The feat has been achieved 12 times previously in program history.
-Rutgers is second nationally and first among Power 5 teams with only 32.3 rushing yards allowed per game. The 97 rushing yards permitted are the least amount for the RU defense in the first three games of a season since 1940 (73). The last time holding three consecutive opponents all under 50 rushing yards was in 2009.
-Rutgers signed its highest-rated recruiting class in the Big Ten era in 2022 (sixth in the league by ESPN, eighth by 247Sports). ESPN rated the class No. 26 nationally, the highest mark for the Scarlet Knights since 2012. RU signed 42 student-athletes, with 21 from New Jersey. Twelve states were represented overall. The class includes the top recruit from New Jersey (OL Jacob Allen), New York (LB Moses Walker) and Kentucky (QB Gavin Wimsatt). Thirteen signees for the offensive line marked the highest for any position group.
-Rutgers University and its neighbor, Princeton, played the first game of intercollegiate football on Nov. 6, 1869, on a plot of ground where the present-day Rutgers gymnasium now stands in New Brunswick, N.J. Rutgers won that first game, 6-4.
-Rutgers holds a +12 turnover margin since 2020 (42 forced). That includes one turnover or less against in 18-of-25 games and an 8-0 record when not committing a turnover in a game.
-The Hawkeyes recorded their first shutout since 2019 against Nevada on Sept. 17 – a 27-0 victory. Iowa has allowed just 13 points in its first three games – the second fewest in the first three games in the AP Poll era (since 1936). It was Iowa’s sixth shutout since 2016, tied with Penn State, UAB and Virginia Tech for the fourth most in the country over that span.
-The Hawkeyes open Big Ten Conference play on Saturday at Rutgers. Iowa is 7-3 in its last 10 league openers and 12-11 all-time under head coach Kirk Ferentz. The team also opened conference play in Piscataway in 2016 – a 14-7 win.
-Iowa’s defense limited Nevada – a team averaging 336.3 yards – to just 151 yards total offense. It was the second opponent this season that has gained 151 yards or fewer (120 vs. South Dakota State). It is the first time since 1986 that Iowa has limited two of its first three opponents to 160 yards or less (125 at Iowa State, 159 vs. NIU, 150 versus UTEP).
-The Hawkeyes finished with a season-high 337 yards total offense against Nevada, with 175 coming through the air and 162 coming on the ground. QB Spencer Petras tossed his first touchdown through the air (to Arland Bruce IV) and seven different Hawkeyes had at least one reception.
-Iowa punter Tory Taylor is leading the Big Ten and ranks third nationally with a 48.3 average. Taylor has 23 punts this season with a long of 63. Eleven of his punts have traveled 50+ yards and 13 have been downed inside the 20. He was the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week on Sept. 3.
Rutgers – Kurt Sutter
Iowa - Julie Kedzie
HOWE I SEE IT: If you like defense and special teams, you've come to the right place. With the combined point total in the game predicted to be around 35, gambling sites are expecting the offenses to struggle.
It makes sense, Iowa leads the Big Ten in scoring defense (4.3 points per game), while Rutgers ranks sixth in the conference at 14.0. The Hawkeyes are third in total defense (194.7 yards per game) and the Scarlet Knights sit in fourth (240.3 YPG) among league teams.
The contest also features two of the Big Ten's top punters in Iowa's Tory Taylor and Adam Korsak of Rutgers. Hawkeye place-kicker Drew Stevens, and his Scarlet Knights counterpart, Jude McAtamney, could play big roles in this one as well.
Expect these coaching staffs to employ conservative offensive game plans. They'll call risk-averse plays and battle for field position.
This one will be decided by a key play or two in the fourth quarter. I see the Hawkeyes squeezing out a victory.
PREDICTION: IOWA 16, Rutgers 13