The Iowa Hawkeyes begin the 2015 regular season this upcoming Saturday in a home contest against Illinois State. Though from the FCS, Illinois State can not be slept on. They reached the national championship last year, giving perennial power North Dakota State all they could handle before falling 29-27.
Lead by head coach Brock Spack, they've been a formidable program since he took over the Redbirds. This will be his seventh season in charge, compiling a 46-26 record over that span. He's familiar with the Big Ten, having been a linebacker for Purdue and later their defensive coordinator for 12 seasons.
This will be the first meeting ever between Iowa and Illinois State.
Hawkeye Insider provides knowledge and insight into the Hawkeyes' first foes.
Illinois State had an offense that averaged 38.3 points a game last year. They threw for 222 yards a game last year and collected 32 touchdowns through the air overall.
Indiana transfer Tre Roberson is their quarterback, and a good one at that. He threw for 3,221 yards and 30 scores himself last season. His completion percentage was 58 while he threw 10 interceptions. He's not a one-trick pony though, as Roberson also ran for over 1,000 yards and 11 additional scores. He is a force to be reckoned with.
Despite his strong numbers, Roberson will be working with a virtually new receiving core. Of the listed starters, Anthony Warrum had the most receptions a year ago with only 17. It'll be interesting to see what the chemistry is like in game one for the connections, and how well the newbies at wideout develop. Couple that with Iowa's stout seconodary, and you have to like the Hawkeyes' chances even with Roberson under center.
The running game for the Redbirds last year was sensational. We already mentioned Roberson rushing over 1,000 yards on the season, but running back Marshaun Coprich gained 2,362 yards on the ground in 15 games of action to go along with 27 touchdowns. The Hawkeyes front seven will be challenged right out of the gate with two talented runners.
However, the offensive line for Illinois State is in a similar situation to Iowa's. They only bring back two starters, left guard Kyle Avaloy and center Mark Spelman. They'll be breaking in two new offensive tackles as well, and that will probably have Drew Ott and Nate Meier licking their chops for the Hawkeyes.
Two starters return along the defensive line for Illinois State in defensive ends David Perkins and Teddy Corwin. Perkins originally signed with Ohio State after being committed to Notre Dame. He left the Buckeyes program and is now a strong pass rusher for the Redbirds. The defensive tackles don't return as much experience. Adam Conley has never started, while Dalton Keene only started four contests a year ago. David Kenney, who was committed to Iowa at one point, is the backup for Teddy Corwin at defensive end.
Rounding out the front seven for Illinois State are linebackers Alex Donnelly, Pat Meehan, and Alejandro Rivera. Donnelly and Meehan were starters last season, while Rivera was primarily used on special teams. Backing up Rivera is former Hawkeye Reggie Spearman.
That front seven allows Illinois State to generate a very good pass rush, particularly with David Perkins off the edge. Corwin is also an asset in that way, plus they have additional edge players in linebacker Alex Donnelly, and even Spearman off the bench. Outside of the defensive tackles, it's a formidable group. Hawkeye offensive tackles Boone Myers and Ike Boettger will be tested right out of the gate.
The cornerbacks for the Redbirds are Josh Burch and Davontae Harris, and there's only five games of starting experience shared between them. With Iowa having the tools to challenge defenses downfield more this year with C.J. Beathard at the controls, the two newbies could have their hands full right away. The safeties for Illinois State are also unproven, as Alec Kocour only started in two games in their championship run last year, and Drashane Glass was a role player on special teams. If the Hawkeyes can get some protection up front, there's matchups to take advantage of down field in the passing game.
Defensively, Iowa needs to stop the run first and foremost. That's what the Illinois State offense will want to fall back on early in the season as they break in an almost entirely new wide receiver group. With Roberson and Coprich both returning, their bread and butter will be pounding the rock on the ground. I expect big games from Drew Ott and Nate Meier, who will have the benefit of squaring off against some new pups in their first starts at offensive tackle.
Offensively, it's more of the same that Hawkeye faithful have wanted, and that's take more shots down field in the passing game. They have the tools to do that this year with the arm of C.J. Beathard and some potent weapons like Tevaun Smith and Matt VandeBerg. Riley McCarron and Jacob Hillyer will also be asked to make some plays, and it'll be intriguing to see how freshman Jerminic Smith fits in as well. Illinois State has hardly any experience in their secondary, but they do have some quality edge rushers, so we'll find out quickly how up to the task their new offensive tackles are in Boone Myers and Ike Boettger.