Maryland’s next opponent, Iowa (5-1), is coming off a 45-29 home victory against Indiana. The Kirk Ferentz-led Hawkeyes have also won their last two road games, against Pittsburgh and Purdue, and will attempt to move to 3-0 away from Iowa City Oct. 18 when they take on the Terps at noon in Byrd Stadium.
Here’s our position-by-position breakdown of Iowa:
The Hawkeyes’ offense has been rather mercurial this year, and, really, they’re still searching for an identity. Iowa typically prefers to run the football and then use play-action when defenses creep in, but the ground game hasn’t exactly been humming like in years past, the Indiana game notwithstanding (Iowa had 207 rushing yards and averaged 4.7 yards per carry last week against a leaky Hoosiers defense). Most opposing teams are loading the box against them, daring the Hawkeyes to beat them with the pass. So far, the results have been mixed.
For the year, Iowa is ranked 89th in total offense at 381.3 yards per game (151.3 rushing yards per, 230 passing yards per), which puts them in the middle of the FBS. They average 5.1 yards per play and are putting up 26.3 points per game. The Hawkeyes do have a favorable time of possession (32:39), but they’re converting just 43 percent of their third downs and have been successful on only 73 (19-of-26) percent of their red-zone opportunities.
In terms of scheme, Iowa is fairly vanilla, running a traditional pro-style with the quarterback under center and a fullback and running back to the left and right of him. That said, Iowa will use a three tight-end set, and they’ll do I-formation quite a bit as well. Once in a blue moon you’ll see them use a four or five-receiver set.
The main storyline heading into the Indiana game was Iowa’s quarterback situation. Most teams shy away from rotating their signal callers for a variety of reasons, but Kirk Ferentz and Co. said they were implementing a two-quarterback system for the IU bout. But it wasn’t much of a rotation as one guy played the majority of the series and the other threw a total of five passes.
It really doesn’t matter which triggerman starts or plays, however, because Iowa’s pair are pretty similar. Both Jake Rudock (Jr., 6-3, 208) and C.J. Beathard (So., 6-2, 203) are under-the-center passers who rarely scramble or move the pocket.
So, why even consider using two quarterbacks when both are practically the same? Well, Rudock went down with a hip injury in Week 4 against Pittsburgh, and Beathard came in and brought the Hawkeyes back from a 17-7 halftime deficit, leading them to a 24-20 victory. The very next week Beathard proceeded to play the entire game against Purdue with Rudock out, and put up good numbers in a 24-10 Iowa win.
Rudock was back healthy heading into IU, however, so the staff said they’d rotate them both through. But Rudock ended up reclaiming his starting job and completed 19-of-27 passes for 210 yards and two touchdowns against IU, while Beathard finished up 2-for-5 for nine yards.
Here’s what you need to know about the pair. Rudock can move around a little, but he’ll mainly stick in the pocket. He’s a cerebral, heady quarterback who is comfortable with the playbook, actively reads defenses and manages the game fairly well. Rudock excels at connecting on the short-to-intermediate throws, but he can struggle on deep balls.
For the season, Ruddock has completed 104 of 154 passes for 1,008 yards and seven touchdowns, against two interceptions. He is averaging 201.6 yards per game.
Beathard, meanwhile, is more athletic and has a stronger arm than Ruddock. He can hit on the deep bomb and post corner, and can pick up a first down with his feet if a play breaks down. But Bethard needs to be more precise and accurate, and sometimes he’ll struggle with his decision making too.
He’s completed 28 of 53 passes for 372 yards and one touchdown, against one interception this year.
Just like the quarterbacks, Iowa rotates in its two main running backs fairly equally. There’s no method to the madness either; it’s a series-to-series, play-to-play, on-the-whim type of thing.
The guy who usually starts the game off, though, is Mark Weisman (Sr., 6-0, 240), a true “hammer” back. Weisman has a Mike Alstott-like frame, and is known as a pure grinder who does his best work between the tackles. He’s not flashy and not particularly fast, but he can push the pile and break through arm tackles.
Weisman has toted the rock 103 times for 349 yards (3.4 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns. Last week he had 89 yards and two scores against Indiana.
The other starter, Jordan Canzeri (Jr., 5-9, 192), is a quicker, smaller runner who can bust it downfield. He’s not a true home-run hitter, but he has wheels and can beat defenses to the edge. Canzeri totes it between the tackles as well, and does a good job running to daylight and sliding through holes. For the season he has 46 carries for 184 yards and no scores, and is coming off an eight-carry, 32-yard game.
The third-down back is Damon Bullock (Sr., 6-0, 205), who is known for his pass blocking. A tough, physical back, he’s adept at picking up blitzers on third-and-long situations. Bullock can also pick up a yard or two if needed, though he’s only averaging 2.6 yards per carry on 20 attempts. He’s actually more of a threat as a receiver, as he’s pulled down 17 balls for 106 yards, making him one of Iowa’s top four pass catchers.
The Hawkeyes do use a fourth running back on occasion in LeShun Daniels (So., 6-0, 230). When Bullock was hurt against Purdue, Daniels was on the field for a number of snaps, though he managed just one carry for seven yards. Another grinder, between-the-tackles type, Daniels has 13 carries for 42 yards so far.
As for the fullbacks, Iowa uses two of them (seeing a pattern here?). The original starter, Adam Cox, actually tore his ACL during camp, so the Hawkeyes now look to Macon Plewa (Jr., 6-2, 236) and John Kenny (Fr., 6-2, 225). Kenny, who began the season at linebacker but moved to fullback to compensate for the loss of Cox, started the three games prior to IU with Plewa injured. And for a converted linebacker, he's held up well, especially as a pass blocker. He’s done OK leading the way through holes, but he makes some fundamental errors and is still learning the position. Kenny will rarely touch the ball, but he has enough athleticism to flair out and catch a pass if asked.
Plewa returned against Indiana and should be the starter once again at Maryland. He’s known as a solid lead blocker who drives well and can clear paths for the backs. Plewa’s return should help Iowa’s running game, but, like Kenny, he’s not just a stiff whose only job is plowing over linebackers. Plewa has soft hands and is fairly athletic, so you could see him nab a swing pass or two.
The No. 1 wideout and most reliable receiver Iowa has is Kevonte Martin-Manley (Sr., 6-0, 205), a three-year starter. He’s a possession type with reliable hands, who can haul down a pass in traffic and range over the middle. He’s the Hawkeyes’ go-to guy on third down and during important situations, and more often than not Martin-Manley comes through. Martin-Manley does the dirty work as well, and is known as a willing blocker. Now, he’s not a burner and height-wise he’s on the shorter side, but Martin-Manley’s a proven, consistent threat who must be accounted for. For the season he has 29 catches for 245 yards and a touchdown, and is coming off a three-catch, 13-yard game.
Split-end Tevaun Smith (Jr., 6-2, 200) is a size-speed combination who has come up clutch on several occasions. He’s a potential big-play receiver, a home-run threat who can take the top off the defense. Moreover, he makes things happen in the open field and is Iowa’s most dangerous playmaker in space. That said, defenses have been able to take him away this year, as his longest reception before the Indiana game was just 16 yards. Smith has 19 catches for 220 yards and a touchdown this year. Last week he pulled down four passes for 69 yards.
The rest of Iowa’s receivers have rarely been featured as far as catching the ball goes. Jacob Hillyer (Jr., 6-4, 208) is more of a redzone receiver, a tall, physical wideout with good hands who comes in near the goal line. He has eight catches for 81 yards this year, but has not scored a touchdown yet.
Matt VandeBerg (So., 6-4, 175), another possession receiver, is used for underneath routes and over-the-middle patterns. He has reliable hands, but his forte is blocking out on the edge. He’s hauled in just four passes for 65 yards so far.
Damond Powell (Sr., 5-11, 180), meanwhile, is a deep threat who has a ton of pure speed. Iowa will use him on tunnel screens and reverses to take advantage of his wheels as well. Powell has nine catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns so far, and last week he led Iowa’s receivers with 85 yards and a score on just three receptions.
Last but not least, there’s Derrick Willies (Fr., 6-4, 210), a spring sensation who caught the attention of the staff. He’s been the odd man out, though, and hasn’t played a whole lot yet. But with his size and speed, Willies is a potential threat whenever he’s in the game. He has four catches for 71 yards and a touchdown this year.
Iowa typically uses two tight ends, though they will send out three occasionally and go four-deep at the position.
Ray Hamilton (Sr., 6-5, 252), the starter, is more of a blocker than a receiver, but he can get up the seam. When defenses cheat to the outside, the Hawkeyes like to run their tight ends down the middle, and Hamilton presents a big target with soft hands. He’s not the fleetest of foot, and he doesn’t have elite athleticism, but Hamilton can make a play for you from time to time. For the season he has eight catches for 79 yards.
The second tight end, Jake Duzey (Jr., 6-4, 225), is brought in during passing situations. He’s no Antonio Gates, but he’s athletic, fairly fast and can pull in those deep over-the-middle throws. For the season he has 18 catches for 100 yards and two scores. He had four catches for 23 yards and a touchdown last week.
Iowa will also use Henry Krieger Coble (Jr., 6-4, 250) and George Kittle (So., 6-4, 230) occasionally as well. The former is a blocking-receiving combo, while the latter is more of a receiver who has to pick up his blocking. Neither have produced much in the way of meaningful stats, however.
Iowa’s offensive line has been rather inconsistent this year, excelling in some areas, while lacking in others. The Hawkeyes have only allowed nine sacks all season -- they did just give up four to IU -- but their run blocking hasn’t been up to snuff, as Iowa is averaging just 3.8 yards per carry.
Basically, the team’s two tackles have excelled, and the center has been fine too, but the guards are question marks. It hasn’t helped matters that Iowa plays just five linemen, with the backups rarely rotating in. Simply put, if one of the starters is injured, the Hawkeyes could be in trouble.
And they just might be, because rock-steady left tackle Brandon Scherff (Sr., 6-5, 320) was dinged up during the IU game with a shoulder injury. We’ll see what his status is later this week, but if he’s out it’s a huge blow to Iowa’s line.
The face of Iowa football, Scherff would have been a first-round NFL draft pick last year. Scherff is a burly, tough-as-nails blocker who plays with a mean streak. He had a YouTube-worthy block against Pittsburgh where the linebacker came on a delayed blitz, and Scherff absolutely de-cleated him. A nasty run blocker, Scherff excels at driving his man off the ball and opening up massive holes. His pass protection is solid too, though he did give up one sack against Iowa State.
Next to Scherff is Sean Welsh (Fr., 6-3, 285), a redshirt freshman who has been a work in progress. He has had his moments, for sure, but overall Welsh has to get better all-around. As a first-year player, Welsh hasn’t totally developed yet, and his technique tends to wane at times. Plus he’s undersized and has to add more bulk to his frame.
The center Austin Blythe (Jr., 6-3, 290) has basically been a three-year starter, the last two at his current position. Like many centers, he’s the steady, reliable quarterback of the offensive line. Blythe isn’t someone who draws attention, and he’s not going to make many second-level blocks, but he’s solid all the way around.
At right guard, Jordan Walsh (Jr., 6-4, 290) is about a year ahead of where Welsh is now. He still has spates of inconsistencies, and his run blocking hasn’t always been on-point, but overall he’s done OK. Walsh struggled a bit early, but seems to be hitting his stride as of late.
Finally, at right tackle is Andrew Donnal (Sr. 6-7, 305), who is finally healthy after an injury-plagued career. He’s played all over the line during his four years in Iowa City, but now seems to have settled in at right tackle. Donnal isn’t as dominant as Scherff, but he usually gets the job done. He’s known as a solid pass blocker, but he does need to do a better job moving guys off the ball when run blocking.
Why is Iowa sitting at 5-1? It’s defense is one of the best in the nation. The Hawkeyes are ranked 26th nationally in yards allowed (330.7 per game) and are surrendering just 19.2 points per game. Opponents are picking up 5.2 yards per play, 3.9 yards per carry and have recorded a total of 91 first downs. On top of that, Iowa has only allowed foes to score four touchdowns on 14 attempts inside the redzone.
While most defensive coordinators like to get creative these days, Iowa sits in its base 4-3 and plays straight gap-control. There rarely change formations and don’t blitz very often either, though once in awhile they might throw an odd front at you.
Defense has been Iowa’s M.O. under Kirk Ferentz, and his teams are usually built around rough, physical and rugged players who simply perform their assigned tasks. Set the edge, don’t over-pursue, make the tackle, keep guys in front of you, and get off the field -- that’s Iowa defense.
The Hawkeyes are holding teams to a miniscule 3.9 yards per carry and 130.3 rushing yards per game, while the line has produced 10.5 of Iowa’s 14 sacks. This is the defense’s strength, the four guys up front who excel at taking on blocks and pressing the pocket.
That said, the Hawkeyes do have some questions at their weak-end spot. To compensate for each player’s relative shortcomings, they like to work Nate Meir (Jr., 6-2, 244) and Mike Hardy (Sr., 6-5, 280) into a rotation, with the former playing 60 percent of the snaps and the latter 40 percent. Meir is a smaller, faster pass-rushing end, though he does not have a sack this year (and just one tackle for loss). He tends to struggle with bigger linemen and doesn’t actively disengage, but he has been known to get to the quarterback in the past. Meir has 32 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks so far in 2014, and is coming off a game where he had a team-high 10 stops.
Hardy, meanwhile, started his career as a linebacker but has developed into a down lineman. He’s a solid run stopper, who sets the edge well and can make a play down the line if asked. Hardy isn’t the fastest end out there, but he’s tough inside and typically wraps up. He has eight tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss this year.
The opposite end, Drew Ott (Jr., 6-4, 270), is an every-down player and the most potent pass-rusher Iowa has. Relentless in pursuit, he consistently gets to the quarterback, either for a sack or to disrupt his rhythm. Ott is also a stout run defender, excelling at the point of attack and actively working to scrape off blocks. A potential All-Big Ten performer, he is the most improved player on Iowa’s defense. For the season, Ott has 31 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Against Indiana he had five tackles, 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss.
While Iowa’s ends have been mostly solid, it’s the defensive tackles that make the defense work. Carl Davis (Sr., 6-5, 315) and Louis Trinca-Pasat (Sr., 6-3, 290) aren’t just slugs in the middle who eat up opposing linemen; they’re active backfield breakers who stuff the run and can get to the quarterback.
Davis, for his part, is a house at 6-5, 315, but he has uncanny athleticism for his size. Most teams try to double-team him, but he’s deft enough and strong enough to defeat them. Davis tackles well and rarely lets running backs out of his grasp, though he has been known to rush the passer too. For the season he has 20 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, a sack and numerous pressures.
Trinca-Pasat isn’t as potent of a pass rusher as Davis, but he’s real tough defending the run. You may not notice him much since he usually occupies multiple blockers, freeing up the linebackers, but he’s a steady force up front. Trinca-Pasat has 39 stops, 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks this year.
Iowa usually doesn’t rotate much up front, but there are three other defensive linemen who see time. Faith Ekakite (So., 6-3, 287) is an interior run stuffer, Jaleel Johnson (So., 6-4, 310) is more in the mold of a pocket-collapsing tackle, and Nathan Bazata (Fr., 6-2, 284) has a bright future as a run-stuffing-pass-rushing combination.
If there’s an area of concern for Iowa’s defense, it’s the linebackers. The Hawkeyes saw three backers graduate last year, and the new starters are still working through some kinks, especially in pass coverage. Iowa is only surrendering about 200 passing yards per game, but the Hawkeyes have surrendered 12.5 yards per catch, and much of that is because opposing quarterbacks are finding holes right overtop the backers in the middle of the zone. That said, the Hawkeyes don’t allow leaky yardage, are disciplined run defenders and can make plays in space too.
The LEO or outside linebacker is Bo Bower (Fr., 6-1, 220), a former walk-on who emerged out of nowhere to become one of the Hawkeyes more reliable backers. A hybrid safety, he’s the most versatile player on the defense. Bower can run with tight ends in space, but he’s physical enough to come up and deliver a pop as well. Bower, unlike the rest of the Iowa backers, is actually stronger against the pass than the run; he needs to continue adding strength while working on his form. This year he has 19 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and two interceptions (he had one against IU last week).
The most veteran Hawkeyes linebacker is MIKE Quinton Alston (Sr., 6-1, 232), who has a team-high 44 stops, a forced fumble, three tackles for loss and one sack this year. He is a downhill player who actively fills the gaps and can really thump. Alston doesn’t have the loosest hips, however, and struggles in pass coverage, but he’s one of the best in the box.
Iowa employs another one of their rotations at the weak-side linebacker spot. Right now Reggie Spearman (So., 6-3, 230) and Josey Jewell (Fr., 6-2, 225) are the two main guys, the former a run stopper and the latter a pass defender. Typically Spearman plays on first and second down, as he’s known for his physicality and tackling prowess. Jewell, meanwhile, is loose and fairly fleet of foot, so the Hawkeyes like to use him in obvious passing situations. Spearman has 29 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack this year, while Jewell has five stops, a tackle for loss and a sack this year.
Some of the other linebackers who see time are Travis Perry (Jr., 6-3, 232), who backs up Alston, and Bob Neiman, who comes in for Bower. Perry is better in coverage than Alson, so he’ll see the field in certain passing situations. Neimann, a converted receiver, is more of a coverage specialist as well, but he’s struggled a bit defending the run.
The defensive backs are allowing 200.3 passing yards per game, which ranks 25th in the FBS, and they usually do a good job of limiting big plays.
Cornerback Greg Mabin (So., 6-2, 195) emerged from a three-way camp battle for the starting spot and hasn’t done anything to relinquish his spot. A tall, physical corner, Mabin tackles well and is solid in coverage. He doesn’t excel in any one area, and he doesn’t have blazing speed, awesome ball skills or lockdown abilities, but he’s well-rounded and dependable. For the season Mabin has 26 tackles and a pick, to go along with 11 breakups/pass defenses (he had five against IU alone).
The main cover guy is Desmond King (So., 5-11, 190), who is probably Iowa’s second best defensive NFL prospect. A lockdown corner, King is on his way to All-Big Ten recognition as a true sophomore. He rarely breaks down in coverage, can shadow receivers stride for stride, actively reads offenses, does well anticipating routes, and, to boot, he can tackle well too. King might just be the best cornerback in the Kirk Ferentz era. This year he has 29 tackles, an interception and five breakups/pass defenses as teams don’t always throw in his direction. King recorded his first pick this year against IU last week.
The third corner, Maurice Fleming (So., 6-0, 200), only enters on the rare occasions when Iowa uses its nickel defense or “Raider” package (three down linemen, two linebackers, six defensive backs). He’s a serviceable player, though he hasn’t been given many opportunities to thrive or fail this year.
At strong safety, John Lowdermilk (Sr., 6-2, 210) is a two-year starter who does his best work near the line of scrimmage. Lowdermilk tends to break down in coverage, however, and has been beaten deep a couple times this year. He has 38 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and four pass defenses/breakups.
Former DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.) star Jordan Lomax (Jr., 5-10, 200) starts at free safety after manning the cornerback position in 2013. Lomax has showed good range and has recorded plenty of open-field tackles this year. He’s also a smart safety who understands the defense well and actively reads offenses. That said, he’s still learning the nuances of the safety position; he has had breakdowns in coverage, while his technique lapses from time to time. Lomax, though, is Iowa’s fourth-leading tackler at 34 stops, to go along with nine pass defenses/breakups, an interception and a forced fumble.
It wouldn’t be accurate to call Iowa’s kicking game a disaster, but the Hawkeyes haven’t exactly performed well. Kicker Marshall Koehn (Jr., 6-0, 195) was shaky early on, and has connected on just 6-of-9 field goals this year. Ironically, he’s 2-of-2 beyond 40 yards, but missed three between 30-39 yards. Koehn has a big leg and routinely puts the ball in the end zone for touchbacks, but his accuracy is a question mark.
If Koehn continues to struggle, expect Mick Ellis to get a shot. Ellis came on for one makeable field-goal attempt earlier this year, however, and missed, so he doesn’t exactly inspire confidence either.
The punter Dillon Kidd (Jr., 6-2, 230) is a junior-college transfer who won the starting job during camp. Kidd has been inconsistent this year, however, and is still a work in progress. He’s averaging only 38.8 yards per boot, hadn’t sent one punt more than 50 yards until last week (he kicked three 50-plus yards against IU) and has placed 10 inside the 20-yard line. Kidd usually has about one shank per game.
The starting punt returner, Riley McCarron (So., 5-9, 185), has only been back from injury for a couple weeks after being hurt. He’s still an unknown commodity at this point, though he is quick and has shown flashes. At the same time, he’s made a couple poor decisions, so the jury is still out on him. Last week he had three returns, put picked up a total of three yards.
On kick returns, Iowa likes to use a diamond formation with Jonathan Parker (Fr., 5-8, 180) deep and Jordan Canzeri and another running back or tight end in front of him. Parker takes the majority of the kicks, however, and is averaging 27.4 yards per bring back. He is an explosive mighty mite and one of Iowa’s most dangerous players with a ball in his hands. That said, Parker did have a couple fumbles against Ball State and was in the doghouse, but he’s done well recently.
Opponent Preview: Iowa
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