And so it begins.
The Scarlet Knights begin their Big Ten conference schedule against the Iowa Hawkeyes tomorrow. All eyes will turn to head coach Chris Ash to determine how well prepared his team is against such staggering odds.
The Hawkeyes, ranked 25th in Coaches Poll, are coming to town fresh off a huge upset loss to FCS North Dakota State. They will certainly be looking be looking to atone for last week’s setback.
I actually like this matchup for Rutgers and believe if they come with their A-game they can make it close. Iowa lacks an offense that is consistent in dynamic playmaking and its defensive line can get pushed around surrendering serious yardage to runners. In some matchups, Iowa actually plays to RU’s strengths.
Hawkeye running backs Leshun Daniels Jr and Akrum Wadley are power runners who do a good job of consistently pounding out 3 to 4 yards that have Iowa ranked 91st in rushing offense among FBS teams. Daniels has put up 224 yards on 39 carries giving him an average of 5.74 yards per carry, though that is deceiving because without his two 43 yard runs in week 1 and week 2, his average would drop to 3.7 yards per carry. In a somewhat similar circumstance with Wadley, his 190 yards on 25 carries and 7.6-yard average would drop to 6.3 yards if you subtract his 38 yard run against Miami (OH) in week 1. This squares nicely with Iowa being ranked 91st in Rushing IsoPPP, an advanced stat that attempts to measure a team’s explosiveness.
More proof of Daniels’ and Wadley’s north-south running style is found in the team’s number 1 ranking in Power Success Rate, which measures the percentage of runs on third and fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieve a first down or score. Iowa ranks 4th in Rushing Success Rate, which is the percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieve a first down or touchdown. It also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer..
The Scarlet Knights’ front seven rank in the top 36 Division I teams among several advanced stats that indicate success in stopping the run. These stats include SD Run Rate (27th), PD Run Rate (36), Overall Havoc Rate (34), DL Havoc Rate (30th), and DB Havoc Rate (19th). The only area RU is lacking in is LB Havoc Rate, which currently ranks 79th. For explanations of the aforementioned stats click here.
While RU’s impressive stats could be a result from playing softer oppositions the last two weeks, we can hope to see a classic trench warfare battle. This Saturday will be a big test for the Rutgers run defense for sure.
Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard leads an offense ranked 97th overall in FBS play. His 579 yards passing and 7 touchdowns with just 1 interception is responsible for a passing attack that ranks 12th in Passing IsoPPP. His favorite target, Matt VandeBerg, is 30th among Division I receivers in receiving yards with his 15 catches, 267 yards, and 3 touchdowns.
When given time, Beathard makes great downfield decisions. However, the Hawkeyes offensive line has struggled in pass protection on standard and passing down situations. They rank 62nd in PD Sack Rate and a dismal 106th in SD Sack Rate. It should be noted that Iowa was missing two starters on the offensive line for their game last weekend against NDSU. The Scarlet Knight defense needs to create plenty of opportunities to pressure Beathard into bad decisions and throw off the unit’s rhythm. Thus far in 2016, Rutgers ranks 11th in SD Sack Rate and 49th in PD Sack Rate, which is anchored by senior defensive lineman Julian Pinnix-Odrick, who leads the unit with 3.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for losses. Pinnix-Odrick also leads in the team with 16 tackles, which accounts for 9.2% of the team’s total.
The Iowa defense ranks next to dead-last in Stuff Rate, while struggling in other statistical measures that gauge the ability to stop opposing runners. The unit ranks 91st in run defense and 106th in SD Line Yards per carry. However, Iowa’s defensive backfield has a much better ranking of 36th in pass yards allowed, 41st in PD Success Rate, 12th in PD IsoPPP, tied for 13th in turnover margin, and 8th in PD Sack Rate. I don’t expect any heroics or a stellar performance from Rutgers quarterback Chris Laviano.
At the risk of sounding like a broken-record I am looking for the usual suspects in senior wide receiver Janarion Grant, who can throw, run, and catch touchdowns all day, and running back Robert Martin. Both players have produced big numbers this season and should continue to do so against what so far, has not been a standout Iowa defense. We will find out how it all plays out tomorrow!
For a full list of advanced statistics definitions, check out Football Study Hall’s glossary here.