Some of the college football season begins tonight, but the Iowa Hawkeyes 2015-2016 campaign starts on Saturday when they host defending FCS national runner-up Illinois State. The Redbirds are a talented bunch, and must like perennial FCS powerhouse North Dakota State, have the talent and ability to knock off a handful of FBS programs. It's something the Iowa Hawkeyes are fully aware of.
Illinois State presents a variety of challenges for Kirk Ferentz and company, but there's also a few areas Iowa can attack where the Redbirds are not as strong.
Hawkeye Insider dove into the game even more, pinpointing the four most important players for Iowa in their showdown against the Redbirds in the season opener.
The starting running back needs to fire off to a great start, giving the team confidence, and boosting his own morale. The Hawkeyes have been the most successful under Kirk Ferentz when they've had a legitimate rushing attack, and for a team looking to rebound and return to their winning ways, it all starts on the ground. Illinois State doesn't have the beef on the interior of the line like the Hawkeyes do so it should be ground and pound with Daniels that can steer things in the right direction. Not only that, but Illinois State has a secondary full of unproven guys, and establishing a running attack can only make the back end for the Redbirds more vulnerable.
As pointed out already, the passing attack is an area of strength for Iowa in this matchup. Illinois State boasts very little experience in the secondary, and Hawkeyes signal caller C.J. Beathard loves to take chances downfield. For that to happen, and at an optimal level, he'll need his new left tackle to be able to hold his own against some lethal pass rushers such as David Perkins and Teddy Corwin. If Illinois State can generate a consistent pass rush, it limits and nullifies what the Hawkeyes can do through the air.
Like Iowa, Illinois State breaks in two new offensive tackles in the opener. Drew Ott is a beast, and he needs to continue to be a beast. The Redbirds' best player is quarterback Tre Roberson and making him uncomfortable from the jump can really disrupt the flow of the offense. If Ott can wreak havoc, Illinois State could have difficulty finding any kind of offense without the explosive plays of Roberson.
It is inevitable that Tre Roberson will elude the pressure and escape from trouble at times, and it's important for Iowa to limit the damage he does afterwards. Scrambling quarterbacks can often create the most and make the most impact once a play is shredded and torn apart, but they evade the initial rush. That's where the linebackers come into play. Containing Roberson and making sure he doesn't break any long ones will of course depend on the last line of defense, but also linebackers like Josey Jewell to take the proper pursuit angles to prevent the worst case scenario. With Jewell being in the middle, he needs to use his eyes well and have the vision and instincts to be in the right place at the right time, and have the anticipation to corral Roberson before he takes off for significant yardage.