The Iowa Hawkeyes will take on Rutgers to start Big Ten play in week four
Following the Hawkeyes first three non-conference games to start the season, they will travel to New Jersey to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. To open up Big Ten play for the 2016 season, the Hawkeyes and Scarlet Knights will meet for the first time since Rutgers joined the Big Ten.
The Scarlet Knights are coming off a 4-8 season, although that was just their second losing season in the past five seasons – snapping a four-year bowl game streak. While not seen as a huge threat to the rest of the Big Ten this season, Rutgers will try to upset the Hawkeyes to open their conference play.
In fact, since 2010, Iowa has gone an impressive 5-1 in Big Ten openers. This will also be the Hawkeyes first road game of the season. The Hawkeyes have actually fared very well in the recent years during their first road game, as well. Since 2010, Iowa has gone 4-2 in their road opener.
Week 4: Iowa Hawkeyes at Rutgers Scarlet Knights – September 24, TBD
The Scarlet Knights don’t have a ton of roster turnover on the offensive side of the ball. While they did lose their top receiver from a season ago, Leonte Carroo, they return their next three leading receivers, their starting tight end, top two running backs and their quarterback in Chris Laviano.
Laviano struggled last season as a redshirt sophomore. He threw for 2,247 yards, although he also threw 12 interceptions compared to 16 touchdowns. Rutgers was not a team who liked to air it out very often as they rushed 39.2 times a game, making Laviano’s interception rate even more concerning. Despite Carroo catching 10 touchdowns and over double the yards of Janarion Grant, team’s second leading receiver, Laviano spread the ball out.
Grant and Andre Patton each caught over 30 passes last season, although getting tight end Nick Arcidiacono involved could help the turnover-prone quarterback. Still, against a stifling secondary like Iowa owns, I wouldn’t expect Rutgers to air it out much.
Laviano threw at least one interception in seven of Rutgers eight Big Ten games last season, with the exception coming against Michigan State. It was a big reason why Rutgers only put up 27.1 points per game and finished 1-7 in Big Ten play.
However, the Scarlet Knights will continue to pound the rock as they bring back their two leading rushers from last season. Robert Martin and Josh Hicks combined to rush 271 times for 1,437 yards and 10 touchdowns. Having a two-headed monster in the backfield who gives similar production is not something many teams have, and is very useful against tough run defenses who can tire out even the best running backs.
With Iowa giving up just 3.6 yards per carry a season ago, Josey Jewell, Ben Niemann and Jaleel Johnson will have to rush through an experienced offensive line that features four upperclassman in order to stop the run.
Laviano is going to improve this season, but facing a secondary that intercepted 21 passes last season will be tough. I’d expect a ground and pound game plan from the Scarlet Knights, although getting down early was the down fall of Rutgers last season as it forced them to pass. Not letting Martin or Hicks get in a rhythm will seemingly shut down the Rutgers offense.
The Scarlet Knights’ defense had problems last season, although they do have five starting seniors this season. Still, they gave up a very bad 34.9 points per game last season, ranking just 105th in the nation. Plus, LeShun Daniels Jr should be licking his lips as they gave up 5.1 yards per carry. Not to mention that they only were able to force 20 turnovers and 14 sacks last season.
While Iowa doesn’t have the best offensive line in the nation, Rutgers inability to force turnovers or at least get pressure on the quarterback last season could prove costly against C.J. Beathard. The Hawkeyes’ quarterback threw a measly five picks, and using his legs was a key to his success, as well.
In fact, Rutgers gave up at least 30 points in seven of their eight Big Ten games – giving up 28 points against Penn State.
To top it off, Rutgers lost their top three leading tacklers from a season ago, but do return their leader in sacks and interceptions. Safety Anthony Cioffi is one of the lone bright spots on the Rutgers defense. He led the team with four interceptions and also recorded 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Not to mention that Cioffi also ranked fifth on the team in tackles with 45.
It should give Rutgers at least a little hope that they might be able to slow Beathard down early for a little, but it likely won’t last long. The Hawkeyes scored over 30 points per game last season and you can’t lose sight that the Scarlet Knights gave up 50-plus points to Indiana, who finished 6-7, and 46 points to Maryland, who owned a terrible 3-9 record.
The Scarlet Knights brought back a lot on offense but the same can not be said about the defensive side of the ball. Maybe the Scarlet Knights will have a couple of guys on their defensive line and in their linebacker core step up this season, although Iowa has a chance to run and pass all over them.
If Rutgers had a solid defense then they would have a chance to make a bowl game. They have a solid two-back punch in the backfield and they return a good amount of their receiving core, as well as a quarterback who took huge strides during his first year as a starter. Sadly for the Scarlet Knights, they don’t have the defense to compliment their offense.
Just like last season, getting down in games early will cause them to expect big, explosive plays from Martin and Hicks, or to abandon their strong running game and turn to a quarterback who threw 12 interceptions last season. I do expect Laviano to improve as a redshirt junior, but to what degree is unknown.
When it comes down to it, Iowa is coming off a trip to the Big Ten Championship game and Rose Bowl, while Rutgers won just four games. It wouldn’t be surprising if Rutgers is on the edge of making a bowl game this season, they just need a couple more contributors on the defensive side. However, a blowout for Iowa will be expected against a team who ranked in the bottom half of both offense and defense last season.
If Martin and Hicks are able to hit a stride early on then Rutgers has a chance to stay close early. Although, despite this being Iowa’s first road game of the season, I wouldn’t expect the jitters to get to the Hawkeyes that will let that happen. They’re a veteran group who will play within themselves as starting out Big Ten play with an easy win will be expected.
Prediction: Iowa 48 Rutgers 10
Projected Record: 4-0