Iowa (2-1) at Rutgers (2-1)
Time – Noon, High Point Solutions Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.
TV/Radio – ESPN-2, 1450 AM WCTC, 710 AM WOR, Tune In App
Series – First Meeting
Last meeting – First Meeting
Coaches: Rutgers – Chris Ash (1st season, 2-1); Iowa – Kirk Ferentz (21st season 141-109, 18th at Iowa, 129-88)
As the Quarterback Turns – Take one look at the Scarlet Report interviews with Chris Laviano and his backups this week and you get a sense of how close the position could be to an overhaul. What Laviano did against New Mexico was not successful on the whole and the time for change comes as soon as someone else takes it from Laviano. To be the starter, you have to beat the starter and neither Zach Allen nor Giovanni Rescigno did that during multiple opportunities. True freshman Tylin Oden may not be ready yet, but his time could also come sooner. What happens tomorrow if the offense sits stuck in the Alabama mud in the first quarter?
Oh Boy, SAM – Najee Clayton “has stepped away for personal reasons,” which leaves Rutgers without one of its top linebackers and even weaker at an already-thin position. Ash expressed hope for Trevor Morris to be available at the outside linebacker sport after he spent Tuesday in a walking boot. Greg Jones remains the go-to guy at the SAM with the recently-converted Ronnie James as his projected backup. Eric Margolis would start for Morris.
The Ties That Bind – Saturday is specifically special for two Rutgers assistant coaches. Defensive coordinator Jay Niemann puts his wife in the unique position of husband vs. son. Niemann's eldest son, Ben, plays for the Hawkeyes at linebacker. His younger son Nick is also a Hawkeye. For offensive line coach AJ Blazek, it means a clash against his former mentor. Blazek was a team captain for Iowa before he ended his on-field career and transitioned into coaching. Now about Blazek's Hawkeye tattoo...
Matchup to Watch
The first Thorpe Award winner with a chance to defend his crown, King brings a new level of lockdown ability to a Rutgers receiver group already in search of separation at the line of scrimmage. King's return to Iowa was the Hawkeyes' biggest offseason recruiting win and he faces off with a banged-up Patton and inexperienced Harris in the vertical passing game.
Scarlet Knights win if …
They Follow North Dakota State's Lead – Iowa comes to Rutgers angry after the embarrassing home loss to NDSU in front of 70,000 fans in Iowa City. North Dakota State did two things that proved elusive for Rutgers so far and need to change. First, North Dakota State coiled and struck early on a pick six. Eventually, Ash has to have his team ready at kickoff and not after a three-score deficit. Second, NDSU came through with the decisive play in the kicking game. Although David Bonagura is consistent on close-range field goals. Rutgers needs stronger legs across the board.
Hawkeyes Win if …
They Eliminate Janarion Grant – At a rebuilding program like Rutgers, it takes a special kind of college athlete to generate national buzz. Grant is almost there and another all-purpose week against a team like Iowa puts him over in a big way. Grant is 486 all-purpose yards away from Brian Leonard for fourth all-time at Rutgers. He leads all FBS players with 3,086 combined kick return yards. While Ferentz would be crazy to give Grant a chance to make plays on special teams, Rutgers play-caller Vince Okruch described plans to force opponents to kick to Grant and needs that to take place against Iowa. Where the offense struggles, Grant is an equalizer in both the wildcat and as a slotback. Grant represents 22 percent of Rutgers' offense from the line of scrimmage and essentially all of the team's special teams yardage. Take that away and Iowa deletes the most dangerous part of Rutgers football.
WR Janarion Grant – Who else? Now that Rutgers unveiled Grant as a passing threat, he becomes even more dangerous should the Wildcat return against Iowa. If the quarterback can hit him in stride, the quick strikes are dangerous to the Pasco speedster. Howard and New Mexico were both crazy enough to kick to Grant. Is Ferentz? The Rutgers offense has little identity without Grant, so he has to be the focal point against a defense as consistent as Iowa.
Something to Prove
OLB Greg Jones – With Clayton out of the picture, Jones must solidify himself as a Big Ten outside linebacker. Iowa represents his greatest challenge since Washington and the production has to be better. With limited linebacker options and depth, the fifth-year senior has to fly to the football in the hybrid SAM role.
Looking to Build
OT Tariq Cole – One week after Cole lost playing time to backup Zack Heeman, the Scarlet Knights' starting left tackle gave his best effort to date. Cole improved as a run blocker, the key on Robert Martin's career-long touchdown. He brings good mobility to left tackle, but pass protection needs to improve for the struggling Laviano.
Freshman to Watch
OLB Tyreek Williams – No Clayton makes Williams the likely-backup to Jones at strongisde linebacker. The SAM is a crucial play-making position in Jay Niemann's defense. While older linebackers lost ground, Williams soared up the ranks by late training camp. He would likely be the second linebacker off the bench behind Eric Margolis, who replaced Trevor Morris against New Mexico. Williams is also an impact special teams player with a punt block already on his resume.null