Hawkeyes Gameday: 5 keys to victory vs. North Texas

Rick Brown
Matt VandeBerg has 22 catches through three games.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Some of coach Hayden Fry’s former players at North Texas and Iowa wanted to get together for a reunion this weekend. Fry said no, citing a conflict of interest.

Both Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz and North Texas coach Dan McCarney were former Fry assistants at Iowa.

“I told them, 'Hell, I can’t come to that game, because one of my coaches is going to lose and I don’t want to see that,’” Fry said.

Here are some things to keep an eye on Saturday at Kinnick Stadium:

Developing depth. Iowa is favored by more than three touchdowns against a North Texas team that is 0-2 this season and has lost 37 of 38 non-conference road games since 2001.

Translation: Iowa should have a chance to get much-needed experience for some non-starters. Watch for two players in particular — quarterback Tyler Wiegers and running back Derrick Mitchell. Wiegers, a redshirt freshman, has taken just five college snaps. All five came in the fourth quarter of the opener, after Iowa had taken a 31-0 lead on Illinois State. Mitchell, a redshirt sophomore, is a wide receiver turned running back who has created a buzz in practice. This might be the opportunity to test him in real time. Two more to watch for: true freshman wide receivers Jerminic Smith and Adrian Falconer.

Catching Barry. With a victory Saturday, Ferentz will tie former Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez for ninth on the Big Ten’s career wins list. Alvarez won 119 games in 18 seasons. Ferentz, in his 17th season at Iowa, is 118-85. Alvarez and Ferentz were on the Iowa staff together under Fry for six seasons. Alvarez left for Notre Dame after the 1986 season. McCarney was on that Iowa staff, too.

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A Ferentz first. Iowa junior wide receiver Matt VandeBerg has 22 catches this season. That matches his total catches in his first two seasons. It also represents the most catches a player has had in the Ferentz era through the first three games. Kevin Kasper had 21 catches in the first three games of the 2000 season. Kevonte Martin-Manley had 19 catches three games into both the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

Senior wide receiver Tevaun Smith passed 1,000 career yards when he hooked up with quarterback C.J. Beathard for a 51-yard gain late in the first quarter against Pittsburgh. He now ranks 36th in Iowa history with 1,067 receiving yards.

“We kind of know where C.J. is going with the ball,” Smith said. “We know he’s going to take a shot and give us a chance. It’s something that’s exciting for all of us.”

Brick wall. Iowa’s rush defense has passed the test over the first three games. The Hawkeyes are allowing just 51 yards a game, which leads the Big Ten and is fifth nationally. Darrin Hall’s 38 rushing yards Saturday were the most by a running back against the Iowa defense this season. The Panthers were without running back James Conner, the reigning ACC player of the year, who had 155 yards against the Hawkeyes last season. He’s out for the season with a knee injury.

Iowa is also one of four schools yet to allow a rushing touchdown this season. North Texas is averaging 143.5 yards rushing, and has two rushing touchdowns.

8 things Iowa should accomplish vs. North Texas

Statistically speaking. The North Texas offense has had possession of the ball an average of just 21 minutes 10 seconds through two games. But the Mean Green are still minus-four in turnovers. North Texas has fumbled seven times, losing three of them, to go with three interceptions. Opponents have thrown no interceptions and lost three fumbles.

Iowa’s average time of possession this season is 32:51. The Hawkeyes have forced three turnovers and turned it over three times this season.

Another thing to watch today is how Iowa attacks the North Texas defense. The Hawkeyes have run the ball 118 times this season, and passed it 90 times. Iowa is averaging 191.7 rushing yards, and 231.3 passing yards. North Texas is allowing an average of 231 yards rushing, 272 yards passing.