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Scouting the Iowa Hawkeyes ahead of Saturday’s showdown at The Big House

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Iowa’s offense has a lot of weapons and their defense features a top NFL Draft prospect. Do they have enough talent to beat Michigan?

Rutgers v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

The undefeated No. 14 Iowa Hawkeyes come into Ann Arbor being ranked higher than the No. 20 Michigan Wolverines, yet they’re not the Vegas favorite to win the game.

The Hawkeyes have a surprisingly large amount of playmakers on offense, and one of the top NFL Draft prospects on defense. Do the Hawkeyes have enough talent to beat Michigan? Let’s see.

Scouting Iowa

QB Nate Stanley: The Good & Bad

Quarterback Nate Stanley has started at Iowa since 2017, throwing for 6,254 yards, with 60 touchdowns and just 16 interceptions. In ‘17 and ‘18 Stanley didn’t complete over 60% of his passes (55.8 and 59.3%), but this season he’s completing 64.4% of his throws and hasn’t thrown an interception through four games.

One of the best days of Stanley’s career came against Ohio State 2017, where they beat the Buckeyes in Iowa City 55-24. Stanley’s efforts were a major part in the annihilation of OSU, throwing for 5 touchdowns. Stanley was aggressive and made quick decisions to get his team an early lead and plenty of momentum.

On the flip side, Stanley had one of his worst days against Penn State in 2018, going 18-of-49 for 205 yards with 2 interceptions. The game was a nail-biter to the very end, where Stanley threw one of the worst interceptions you’ll ever see on the goal-line on 1st and Goal with three minutes left in the game, down by six. Stanley lobbed the ball up with little to no pop right into the arms of a Penn State defender. These types of decisions in the red-zone happen too often for Stanley and if I was a coach for Iowa I’d find these habits to be troubling. Stanley forces things when he shouldn’t.

Beyond forcing throws here and there, Stanley’s arm strength and accuracy aren’t exactly stellar. Stanley lets a lot of balls sail high and also throws too many balls short of his target. Stanley’s inaccuracy really shows itself when he faces a stiff blitz.

One thing Michigan will have to look out for when it comes to Stanley is his ability to buy extra time with his legs. Stanley isn’t a scrambling quarterback whatsoever, but he is able to leave the pocket and buy time by running out to the perimeter. While Stanley isn’t all that accurate throwing on the run, if he’s able to buy time and set his feet once the pocket collapses, he can create something out of nothing off a broken play.

Multiple playmakers at running back and receiver

The Iowa offense has been unpredictable this season, in a good way. With multiple weapons at running back and receiver, it’s hard for opposing defenses to know exactly what running back is coming in next, or who the primary target is going to be in the passing game.

The Backs

  • Mekhi Sargent: 54 carries, 299 yards, 2 TD’s, 9 receptions for 102 yards
  • Toren Young: 33 carries, 251 yards, 1 TD
  • Tyler Goodson: 34 carries, 202 yards, 9 receptions for 21 yards

The Wideouts

  • Ihmir Smith-Marsette: 15 receptions, 254 yards, 3 TD’s
  • Brandon Smith: 15 receptions, 170 yards, 3 TD’s
  • Tyrone Tracy Jr.: 8 receptions, 164 yards, 1 TD
  • Nico Ragani: 11 receptions, 148 yards

Nate Stanley may have lost his favorite targets to the NFL (tight ends Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson) but Iowa’s talent at wide receiver and the element of RB’s Sargent and Goodson contributing with catches. There are north of six players on Iowa’s offense that are talented and can do damage on any given down.

Defensive End AJ Epenesa gets after quarterbacks

Epenesa was a first-team All Big-Ten selection in 2018 after putting together on heck of a year. Epenesa had 37 tackles in 2018, along with 10.5 sacks and 8 QB hits. Epenesa is highly thought of on the scouting circuit with CBS ranking Epenesa as the No. 8 overall prospect. 247 Sports calls Epenesa “a plus athlete who’s only gotten stronger and more technically sound since arriving in Iowa City (Epenesa added 16 pounds in his first 15 months), Epenesa is exactly what teams look for off the edge. He’ll test well, too. Epenesa was a high school All-American thrower in track, and he’s been clocked at a sub-4.7-second 40-yard dash.”

Epenesa just has one sack through four games, and part of that lack of production has been because he’s constantly being double teamed. Michgian’s offensive line will have their hands full and Epenesa will provide the unit a big challenge they’ll have to accept head on.

Team Stats

  • Total Offense- 29th
  • Total Defense- 5th
  • Red Zone Offense- 1st
  • Red Zone Defense- 123rd
  • Time of Possession- 3rd
  • Team Passing Efficiency- 29th
  • Sacks Allowed- 39th
  • Scoring Offense- 46th
  • Scoring Defense- 3rd
  • Passing Yards per Completion- 70th
  • Passing Offense- 60th
  • Rushing Offense- 29th
  • Passes Intercepted-66th
  • Passed Had Intercepted- 1st
  • 3rd Down Conversion Pct- 1
  • Team Sacks- 113th
  • Sacks Allowed- 39th

What kind of team is Iowa?

- To this point in the season Iowa has been turnover free on offense and has played stellar defense as well. Yes, a couple games have been against Rutgers and Middle Tennessee, two teams Michigan’s played this season, but the Hawkeyes have taken care of business and have yet to lose.

- Iowa may have AJ Epenesa and the reliable linebackers in Kristian Welch and Djimon Colbert, but the Hawkeyes secondary is severely banged up right now. Matt Hankins, along with backup CBs Julius Brents and Riley Moss are all likely going to miss the game Saturday. This could create a glaring competitive advantage for Michigan through the air and will at least have them thinking about taking a couple shots deep down the field.

- Iowa’s offense looks as solid as it has been in awhile, although I’m not sold on Stanley’s career best numbers to this point in the season. Part of Stanley’s success rides on how well the offensive line has performed, but can they keep it up? The line looks strong and physical through four games.

- Iowa is No. 3 in time of possession, and their approach will likely be more methodical than it is aggressive. Iowa may try to rely on the run game, chew clock, and dial up short throws opposed to riskier yet more rewarding deep shots.

- The Hawkeyes are good enough to give most teams a headache and how Kirk Ferentz prepares his team year in and year out should be respected, this year should be no different. They’re well coached and fundamentally sound.