The Iowa Hawkeyes travel to New Jersey to face Big 10 foe Rutgers on Saturday. Here are three things to keep an eye on during the game.
PISCATAWAY, N.J. — To embody the New Jersey spirit, you need swagger and a sneer.
Think Sinatra. Soprano. Springsteen.
“Iowa Nice” isn’t going to cut it Saturday when the Hawkeye football team makes its first appearance here, taking on Rutgers in an 11 a.m. Big Ten Conference opener at High Point Solutions Stadium (ESPN2). The Hawkeyes need to “out-Jersey” the locals, grab the Scarlet Knights by the throat and make it difficult for them to breathe for 60 minutes.
Coming off a home loss to North Dakota State, with so many questions suddenly surrounding the No. 25 Hawkeyes, this is a chance to show the Big Ten newcomers what a bully looks like, and to regain some pride in the process.
Rutgers (2-1) scored three touchdowns last week on plays that covered 69 yards or more. The Scarlet Knights have 10 touchdown drives this season, with nine of them lasting 3 minutes or less. Wide receiver/running back/kick returner Janarion Grant is as dynamic as any playmaker in the league.
The Hawkeyes should be the more explosive team, with a surplus of talent that will make it difficult for the Scarlet Knights to keep up. Iowa punter and kickoff specialist Ron Coluzzi will keep the ball away from Grant. The defense will account for him wherever he lines up. They won’t let the skittery senior beat them, and no one else on the Rutgers roster is capable of doing so.
Instead, look for the Hawkeyes to generate big plays, even on special teams, where Grant is used to being the star attraction. Desmond King has 200 yards in kick returns for Iowa this season and has been close to breaking one for a touchdown. This could be the game he gets one. The Scarlet Knights surrendered a 92-yard kickoff return for a score in their season opener.
“Just a couple of more blocks and hold them down and I feel like we can spring one away,” King said. “I’m just trying to help out the team, help out the offense, get them in good field position as much as I can and just try to make plays wherever I can.”
Iowa focusing on 0-0 Big Ten record heading to Rutgers.
King, who doubles as the best cornerback in the nation, was relieved of his captain’s status this week. Look for him to make Rutgers pay.
Rutgers fell behind 24-0 after one quarter in its opener at Washington. That’s not shocking. But the Scarlet Knights then made awful starts into a blueprint, trailing 14-0 to Howard and 21-0 to New Mexico before rallying for a pair of home victories.
Rutgers is trying to forge a new identity under first-year coach Chris Ash, and his players feel the injection of energy.
“At the end of the day, we’re on the field. We’re going to be giving the effort. We’re going to be making the plays,” Rutgers defensive end Julian Pinnix-Odrick said at Big Ten media days in July. “It’s good to see players young and old taking a front seat to what (Ash) is trying to do.”
Ash, an Ottumwa native, is building excitement, but he doesn’t have the athletes yet to compete with Iowa. The Hawkeyes must keep them in the back seat for now.
The Scarlet Knights gave up 48 points in that loss to Washington. Huskies quarterback Jake Browning threw for three touchdowns, including strikes of 38 and 50 yards.
Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard had three touchdown passes last week, but is still looking for that breakout game. He’s still looking to connect with wide receivers other than Matt VandeBerg as well. This is his chance, against a Scarlet Knights secondary that has six underclassmen among its top eight players.
“When you have playmakers all over the field, it’s hard to key in on one guy,” said VandeBerg, a senior who has 15 catches for 267 yards and three touchdowns to lead the Hawkeyes. “Being three weeks into the season, I think more guys are going be able to figure out what’s going on.”
Those guys would be Jerminic Smith, Riley McCarron and Jay Scheel.
Rutgers is also allowing 178 rushing yards per game. Iowa gets starting center James Daniels and right guard Sean Welsh back this week after sputtering to just 34 yards on the ground against NDSU. The Hawkeyes also have an extra-motivated tailback in Akrum Wadley, a New Jersey native who wasn’t offered a scholarship by his hometown team.
This could be a 50-point outing for the Iowa offense, a chance to show a killer instinct and a chance to get more players into the game after the freshmen were noticeably absent last week.
Some football games are immune to hype. This is one of them.
Iowa has an ideal opportunity to stroll into New Jersey and provide the locals with a familiar sight: a drubbing of Rutgers.