Leistikow's Week 2 Big Ten picks: Hawkeyes must flatten Rutgers' 1-2 running-back punch

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Stopping Rutgers’ 1-2 punch is the primary task separating the No. 19-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes from a successful start to Big Ten Conference play.

Those are the jersey numbers of Rutgers’ top two running backs, who are also their most dangerous offensive players, that the Hawkeyes (1-0) will be tracking in Saturday’s 11 a.m. game at Kinnick Stadium.

No. 1: Isaih Pacheco (5-foot-11, 210 pounds) ran for 156 yards and four touchdowns, including a 57-yarder, in the Scarlet Knights’ season-opening 48-21 win against Massachusetts.

No. 2: Raheem Blackshear (5-9, 192) caught nine passes for 126 yards.

“They have a lot of speed that can get to the outside,” Iowa linebacker Djimon Colbert said. “Their two backs are phenomenal athletes. They just try to get the ball in their hands as many ways as they can. We have to be ready for that.”

Iowa is a 20-point favorite in the game, which will air on Fox Sports 1.

But an easy way to stumble would be to let Pacheco and/or Blackshear burst free.

That point was stressed this week to a Hawkeye defense that showed some leaks in a 38-14 opening win vs. Miami (Ohio). On Wednesday mornings, the Hawkeyes go through their most fast-paced practice of the week.

Senior cornerback Michael Ojemudia explained that coaches, on Wednesdays, will pick “plays that could hurt us the most” based on film and run the defense through those situations.

“A big focus (this week) is tackling. Their running backs showed they could break a lot of tackles,” Ojemudia said. “Stopping that first before we stop the pass is a big focus this week.”

The more Iowa's defensive line (including Daviyon Nixon, top) can get quarterback pressure and stuff the run against Rutgers, the more opportunities the Hawkeyes will have for interceptions.

Rutgers rushed for 206 yards in the opener, and quarterback McLane Carter threw for 340 in his Scarlet Knights debut. But Carter did cough up three interceptions against UMass, giving the Hawkeyes hope that he could be turnover-prone if they can be forceful against the run — leaving him no option but to throw risky passes.

Iowa has had at least 20 interceptions in each of the past two seasons; after “only” getting one against Miami, the secondary is hungry for more. The Hawkeyes will get at least two interceptions Saturday, and they might need them to win comfortably.

After clicking in the opener and a rivalry game at Iowa State on deck, they’re ripe for a little letdown. Still, the offense should be able to control the game with its own 1-2 running-back punch of Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young (Rutgers yielded 5.4 yards a carry last week) to compensate for any big plays the Scarlet Knights strike.  

Prediction: Iowa 38, Rutgers 21

It’s another large Big Ten menu of games this weekend, with Iowa-Rutgers the lone conference matchup and only Northwestern on a bye. Indiana's game against FCS Eastern Illinois (2:30 p.m., BTN) didn't have a consensus line.

Thankfully, I went 4-0 in Friday-night games to salvage a winning Week 1. Let’s get to it.

Cincinnati (1-0) at No. 5 Ohio State (1-0)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., ABC

Vegas line: Ohio State by 16

Prediction: Great story lines in this one, starting with former Buckeyes coach Luke Fickell coming back to the Horseshoe as Cincinnati's head coach. The Bearcats are fresh off a 10-point win against UCLA, hence the reasonable line. The Buckeyes have won by 67, 45, 31, 34, 46 and 43 against their last six home non-Power Five opponents. Granted, Ohio State's coach is Ryan Day now, but the talent gap hasn’t changed that much. Ohio State 42, Cincinnati 17

Army (1-0) at No. 7 Michigan (1-0)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., Fox

Vegas line: Michigan by 22

Prediction: The last time Michigan faced a run-heavy military academy, it struggled to survive, let alone pull away (beating Air Force, 29-13, in 2017). Army, though, showed a poor run defense in the opener (allowing 6.0 yards a carry in a shaky 14-7 win vs. Rice), which could be a recipe for a rout. Michigan 42, Army 3

No. 22 Syracuse (1-0) at Maryland (1-0)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., ESPN

Vegas line: Maryland by 2

Prediction: This line opened with Syracuse as a 5-point favorite, showing the strong support backing the Terps coming off their 79-0 rout of lowly Howard in Week 1. Meanwhile, the Orange’s 24-0 win vs. Liberty was deemed unimpressive. Perception can be a big factor when it comes to betting games, so I’ll jump on some small Syracuse value here. Syracuse 27, Maryland 24

Vanderbilt (0-1) at Purdue (0-1)

Time, TV: 11 a.m., BTN

Vegas line: Purdue by 7

Prediction: The Boilermakers went 0-3 to start their 2018 season, then bounced back with some solid wins and a bowl bid. Now they’ll need to get off the mat after a blowing a 14-point lead in the final 7 minutes at Nevada. After falling 30-6 in its opener to No. 3 Georgia, it’s hard to know exactly where Vanderbilt is at. This feels like two teams still working out some issues, meaning a close game. Purdue 24, Vanderbilt 20

Central Michigan (1-0) at No. 16 Wisconsin (1-0)

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., BTN

Vegas line: Wisconsin by 35

Prediction: The Badgers edged Iowa as the Big Ten West’s most impressive team in Week 1, thus giving them a monster line to cover in Week 2. While Central Michigan’s 38-21 win over Albany doesn’t seem impressive, the Chippewas racked up 529 yards and are led by a good coach in Jim McElwain. They should be able to hang within five TDs. Wisconsin 34, Central Michigan 14

No. 25 Nebraska (1-0) at Colorado (1-0)

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., Fox

Vegas line: Nebraska by 4

Prediction: This game pitting former Big Eight/12 rivals is loaded with bad blood. Colorado was responsible for injuring Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez a year ago on what many in Big Red country viewed as a dirty play. The Buffaloes won that game in Lincoln, and now Nebraska is ready for multi-layered revenge. Folsom Field should be nuts, with second-hand tickets going for well over $200 apiece. I’m guessing Scott Frost will turn Martinez loose after he rushed just 10 times for six yards in an uninspiring 35-21 win against South Alabama. This should be a fun one. Nebraska 37, Colorado 35

Illinois (1-0) at Connecticut (1-0)

Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network

Vegas line: Illinois by 21½

Prediction: Is it possible that Illinois is a good football team? The Illini thrashed Akron, 42-3, last week. The 3 points for the Zips is notable, considering defense was Lovie Smith’s problem a year ago. UConn struggled to beat FCS Wagner a week ago, hence the robust line. Illinois 35, Connecticut 10

Buffalo (1-0) at No. 14 Penn State (1-0)

Time, TV: 6:30 p.m., Fox

Vegas line: Penn State by 30½

Prediction: Penn State’s K.J. Hamler (four catches, 115 yards in a 79-7 opening win against Idaho) is one of the most exciting players in the Big Ten. James Franklin is historically dominant against vastly inferior nonconference opponents, which probably is why this line jumped from the opening 22. The Nittany Lions have an elite defense that should have no problem exerting control. Penn State 41, Buffalo 7

Western Michigan (1-0) at No. 20 Michigan State (1-0)

Time, TV: 6:30 p.m., BTN

Vegas line: Michigan State by 16

Prediction: The Spartans held Tulsa to a minus-73 rushing yards in the opener, a ridiculously good start in their quest to lead the nation in rushing defense for the second straight year. Mark Dantonio’s margin of victory vs. the Broncos is 14, 13 and 13 the last three meetings. Michigan State 27, Western Michigan 14

Minnesota (1-0) at Fresno State (0-1)

Time, TV: 9:30 p.m., CBS Sports Network

Vegas line: Minnesota by 3

Prediction: The Gophers might’ve been the most disappointing Big Ten West team in Week 1. Despite escaping with a win, they were pushed around by FCS South Dakota State at the line of scrimmage. Big Ten teams historically struggle in the Pacific time zone, and Fresno State is coming off a game in which it outgained USC on the road. Fresno State 31, Minnesota 28

Leistikow’s ledger

Last week: 7-6 against the spread (12-1 straight-up)

All-time: 109-94-1 (.537) ATS (149-55 SU)

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.