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Rutgers Football Game #2 Preview at no. 20/19 Iowa

The honeymoon is over as Rutgers hits the road for a ranked conference opponent.

Massachusetts v Rutgers
Rutgers needs another big game from Melton.
Photo by Corey Perrine/Getty Images

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Rutgers (1-0; 0-0) At no. 20/19 Iowa (1-0; 0-0)

Where: Kinnick Stadium, Iowa City, IA

Kick-off: Saturday, September 7 at 12:05 p.m. EDT

Weather: 73 degrees, mostly cloudy with a 15% chance of rain, 3 mph winds

TV: Fox Sports 1 with Justin Kutcher (play-by-play), Petros Papadakis (analyst), and Shane Vereen (analyst)

Stream: FOX Sports App

Radio: Rutgers IMG Sports Network with Chris Carlin, Ray Lucas, and Anthony Fucilli - Rutgers IMG Sports Network: WCTC 1450-AM, WOR 710-AM, WENJ 97.3-FM, WNJE 920-AM, XM 382. (WRSU 88.7-FM: Jake Ostrove and Justin Sontupe)

Current Spread: Iowa -20.5

Against The Spread: Rutgers 1-0; Iowa 0-1

Series History: 1-0, Iowa won 14-7 in the first and only meeting (2016)

SB Nation Iowa site: Black Heart Gold Pants

Iowa Statistical Leaders

Passing: Nate Stanley - 21 for 30 pass attempts, 70.0%, 252 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT.

Rushing: Mekhi Sargent - 91 yards on 14 attempts, 6.5 ypc, 1 TD; Toren Young - 48 yards on 9 attempts, 5.3 ypc, 1 TD; Tyler Goodson - 36 yards on 9 attempts, 4.0 ypc, 0 TD;

Receiving: Mekhi Sargent - 4 catches for 65 yards, 16.3 ypc, 0 TD; Nico Ragiani - 1 catch for 45 yards, 45 ypc, 0 TD; Ihmir Smith-Marsette - 4 catches for 35 yards, 8.8 ypc, 1 TD; Shaun Beyer - 3 catches for 30 yards, 10.0 ypc, 0 TD;

Defense: Kristian Welch - 8 tackles, 1.0 for a loss, 0 sacks, 0 interception; Djimon Colbert - 8 tackles, 0 for a loss, 0 sacks, 0 INT, 2 pass defended; Michael Ojemudia - 3 tackles, 0 TFL, 1 INT

Kicking: Keith Duncan - 5 for 5 PAT’s, 1 for 1 FG attempts, Long of 21 yards

Iowa Statistical Comparison Versus Rutgers

S&P+ Advanced Stats Profiles: Iowa | Rutgers (2018 data)

What To Watch For

Pacheco watch

The Pacheco watch continues after a four touchdown effort in week 1 that bumps it up to the first slot on this list. The emotional centerpiece of the Rutgers offense is the sophomore running back who reached the end zone more times in the season opener than he did all of last season, amazing to think about. If the Scarlet Knights are going to win this game or even be in it until the bitter end, its most physically gifted players need to win their matchups against Iowa.

The Hawkeyes switched to a 4-2-5 defense this season putting more pressure on their linebacking corps, primarily a three man operation for the two spots. Kristian Welch and Djimon Colbert as the starters each registered eight tackles in week 1. Nick Niemann (younger son of Jay) is primarily a weak-side backer who spells Colbert. All three are listed at over 230 pounds, so if there is a big collision with a Rutgers back, whichever side gets the better of the contact will get a huge momentum boost. If Pacheco pulls a Bo Jackson on one of the Iowa LBs in the role of Brian Bosworth, watch out.

Pacheco was second in the country with yards after contact last week per the tweet below:

The more likely scheme advantage is for Rutgers to isolate Raheem Blackshear on these larger linebackers, much like UMass did to RU last week. If Raheem can cause matchup nightmares or heaven forbid deliver a blow himself to truck a tackler, it will energize the entire Rutgers sideline and take some air out of Kinnick Stadium. As one of our commenters pointed out, expect Rutgers to go “full spread” to try and get as much space underneath as possible. Aaron Young may be a big factor as well if Rutgers puts two speed backs on the field to generate even more creative jet sweep, option, and screen game opportunities. Adding a tight end to help chip the Iowa defensive ends is likely the only reason not to play with four receivers.

McLane Carter / McNulty watch

It was the McLane Carter show at times in his first Rutgers start. He turned it into a Big 12 track meet in the first half, rebounding from a poor interception on the first drive. Carter showed excellent chemistry with both Blackshear and Bo Melton who McNulty schemed open quite often. Mo Jabbie made a few catches as well, but the consistent connection wasn’t there yet with several other guys including Daevon Robinson, Isaiah Washington, and Paul Woods.

Carter will face a lot more pressure this week as Iowa boasts two all conference defensive ends, one of which is a First Team All-American candidate in AJ Epenesa. Miami of Ohio double teamed him quite often so it will be curious to see how well Rutgers handles he and Chauncey Golston on the other side. Raiqwon O’Neal impressed me in the opener, so we’ll see if he can do it again. Kamaal Seymour was challenged, but impressively played angles against the smaller players UMass sent to try and run around the outside. The interior Rutgers line primarily played with Zach Venesky manning up his defender while Mike Maietti gave initial chips to aid Nick Krimin then Maietti would release to look for someone coming on a delayed blitz or someone else who needed an assist. Maietti, Blackshear, and even Pacheco (who was a liability in 2018) all made imperative cut blocks that sprung big plays.

As mentioned in my initial thoughts about Iowa, they played quite well in zone coverage in Week 1, but were less impressive in man. The aforementioned linebackers really positioned themselves well, rolling into their zones and passing off receivers to the less experienced safeties. Sense symmetry here? The way to beat the Hawkeyes in the passing game is predicated on the ability to hit a few long passes down the sideline by getting behind the zones or purely beating the man coverage where the young Iowa DBs occasionally get caught ball watching. Then once the defense is stretched, quick throws underneath can really do some damage against the bigger linebackers. McLane Carter does throw a good ball down the sideline so if he can hit one or two to Melton, Washington, Robinson, or Paul Woods that would open things up for Blackshear, Eddie Lewis, or Melton underneath.

If the offensive line can hold up against a four man rush, this isn’t a bad matchup for the Scarlet Knights. The follow on question then becomes if Iowa is forced to blitz, will Carter hit his hot receivers? The few times he had to in Week 1 and even during his days at Texas Tech, he was able to.

Chris Ash, Head Coach. Andy Buh, D.C.

Iowa has one of the best offensive lines in the country, but lost their left tackle to injury. So the right tackle is moving to left and the right guard is moving to tackle. There are multiple backups who have started before. As Andy Buh said, Iowa will be fine on the offensive line regardless. So basically worst case is they push the defensive line back two yards instead of three. The Rutgers defensive line is going to need to disrupt the Iowa down blocking scheme when they simply form a wall and allow the running back a 1 on 1 opportunity to make a linebacker miss and get good yardage. Julius Turner was rusty in Week 1 but they need to rotate him and Jaohne Duggan who did ok at nose guard. At the other defensive tackle spot Willington Previlon is a big guy who specializes in occupying blockers, but can be driven back at times. Maybe Rutgers can get some production from someone else, though no one was overly impressive in Week 1 at defensive tackle.

The ends and jacks were not overly impressive against UMass outside of two matador moves by Lumor and some nice pursuit from CJ Onyechi. If Robin Jutwreten or Tijaun Mason had another year under their belts, I’d expect to see them contribute more in this game. The concern I see for Rutgers right now is that Nihym Anderson, Olakunle Fatukasi, and Tyreek Maddox-Williams are all very much the same type of player, beefed up edge rushers who are quick in small spaces. I expected to lump in Rashawn Battle, but he seems to actually be slimming down over the course of his career unlike the others heading in the opposite direction. Maddox-Williams has unbelievable run stopping instincts, but lacks speed. The game plan for Iowa should be to delay Maddox-Williams’s pursuit by keeping or motioning a tight end to his side and then ensuring someone gets a hat on Tyshon Fogg. Iowa running back Mekhi Sargent left some yards on the field against Miami (OH) but is a nice Blackshear-type player who prefers to win with quickness. If he is destroying RU, we may see Malik Dixon, Deion Jennings or a true freshman get a chance to try and contain him as an outside linebacker.

The biggest key for Rutgers is for Fogg to get off blocks against the run and pass like only Steve Longa has been able to do from the middle linebacker spot this decade.

Is Nate Stanley just too solid for Iowa to lose this game?

The Iowa offense is one of the most balanced in the country, with a passing game that complements the run game quite well. Nate Stanley is good in play action and has accurate enough touch on slants and crossing routes. Stanley has great timing on this throws, so the key to success is for Damon Hayes and Avery Young to get a good jam at the line and lock down their men. Then Rutgers needs to do a great job passing receivers from linebacker to safeties reducing the windows to fit balls in. Iowa’s one receiver who has the most speed is former RU recommit Ihmir Smith-Marsette, though neither he or his position mates try to deviate from the script, but rather play as cogs in a machine.

When college football games are close it often comes down to quarterback play, who can make plays and who can avoid mistakes. McLane Carter can make plays, but is a much bigger risk for turnovers than Nate Stanley. Stanley threw 26 touchdowns to just 10 interceptions a year ago. His poise may just be too much regardless of anything else that happens in this game.

Special Teams

The Rutgers special teamers were hot and cold in the opener. The vaunted kick coverage surrendered a few long returns, one of which required Justin Davidovicz to save a touchdown near midfield. This needs to be cleaned up.

Davidovicz looked solid on his placekicking attempts. Adam Korsak didn’t even see the field until late in the third, possibly even 4th quarter. Adam will be a key to this game. Iowa’s kickers should be solid like always.

On the flip side, the Rutgers return game almost broke a few big returns which was a credit to both the returners themselves including Tre Avery and good blocking. I remember a nice job by Hunter Hayek on punt return who had a tall task against the middle gunners against the rugby style kicks. A big return is likely necessary to make this a game.

Final Thoughts

The Rutgers season avoided complete debauchery with three good quarters to make up for one bad. They get a golden opportunity to make a statement on the road against a ranked opponent. From a pure talent perspective, the Hawkeyes are not 20.5 points better than the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers has not beaten a ranked team in a while, the longest active streak in the Power Five.

We had some chatter in the comments about Rutgers needing to hang around and then maybe getting lucky. Everyone was saying the same thing eventually, that the Scarlet Knights need to play to win by taking some chances for explosive plays on offense and forcing turnovers in defense. Some trick plays, 4th down attempts in no man’s land, and deep shots downfield are needed to show the team the coaching staff has faith in the players. If Rutgers tries to just beat Iowa at their own game, it will never work barring an injury to Stanley and more.

Rutgers may be able to keep this close, but with so little experience in close games, it’s hard to see them winning this contest. If they do, it will have to be on the arm of McLane Carter and some absolute kamikaze defensive play. This is college football and anything can happen.