The Iowa Hawkeyes will look to start the season off 1-0 on Saturday, August 30th at 11 a.m. in Iowa City against Northern Iowa but the game may be harder than expected.
Northern Iowa starts the season ranked number 9 in the FCS and are known for making life difficult for the FBS teams they have played in the past. They have shown that sometimes that talent doesn’t always decide the result.
An example, in 2009 when Iowa played Northern Iowa, it was a match of the future Orange Bowl champions against an average FCS team. That Iowa team needed to block two field goals to beat UNI that game. That’s right, the Adrian Clayborn and Bryan Bulaga led Iowa Hawkeyes almost lost to UNI.
That shows that when Iowa plays Northern Iowa, talent doesn’t always matter. One of the reasons how Northern Iowa bridges that gap is their preparation. They normally have all offseason to prepare for their opening opponent and most years, it is a FBS opponent. They study their opponent, finding their strengths and weaknesses. Against Iowa in 2009, they brought the short passing attack that tore through Iowa’s secondary.
Another reason why they do succeed against some more talented teams is motivation. The FBS teams don’t really get too much of a reward for beating FCS teams. They can really only hurt themselves by either playing a close game or losing to them.
On the other hand, FCS teams have an opportunity to make a name for themselves. They are the little guys so they are motivated to upset the big teams. When the FBS teams win they don’t make any headlines, yet when the FCS team pulls out the upset it is all over the news.
Northern Iowa has even a greater motivation against Iowa than against most other teams. Most Northern Iowa players were overlooked by Iowa when they were coming out of the high school. Because of that, they want to show Iowa what they were missing out on when they didn’t offer the player a scholarship.
The last reason why Northern Iowa upsets so many teams is because they are downright talented. That’s why they beat Iowa State last year in a game that didn’t look like a fluke at all. The Panthers just looked like the better team throughout the whole game.
They are led by monster tailback David Johnson. He rushed for 1,291 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. According to blackheartgoldpants.com, he hasn’t been a slouch against FBS opponents as he has averaged almost 190 all-purpose-yards against 4 FBS opponents in his career. He is the real deal.
They also return their starting quarterback Sawyer Kellmorgen who had 14 touchdowns to 5 interceptions in an injured filled season. Kellmorgen’s top five targets are back again so expect even more improvement from an already decent passing attack.
UNI’s defense doesn’t look to be as strong as their offense as they lost some important players. Their biggest weakness is probably at defensive end as they will be breaking in two new starters. They are set at defensive tackle with Xavier Williams. Williams was a force last year averaging 6 tackles a game and a total of 12 tackles for loss.
Their defensive back four are experienced after returning three meaningful contributors including free safety Ray Mitchell who intercepted four interceptions last year. Their linebackers are shakier as they aren’t sure if starting outside linebacker Jake Farley is completely healthy to play in a full game.
Iowa should have a simple game plan on offense. Attack the edge with the rushing attack. Left tackle Brandon Scherff should have his way with whoever lines up across him, freeing up the running back for a big play. Expect a lot of stretch plays to the left because of this.
Since Iowa’s running game should be dominating, that should make things easier for quarterback Jake Rudock. The play action pass should theoretically work all game, especially to the tight ends.
On defense Iowa will need to make sure that they are sound in their assignments and stop the run. Despite having a star running back, Northern Iowa will probably rely on the short passing attack. That’s what they typically always try to do against Iowa. Also with Iowa breaking in three new linebackers, they will be very susceptible to the pass.
Overall though, I do think that in this game, talent will come through. Iowa’s offensive and defensive line should dominate, making it easy for Iowa on both lines of the scrimmage. Under Ferentz, Iowa doesn’t typically blow out opponents, no matter what the talent disparity is. That’s why I’m guessing the score of the game will be Iowa 31, Northern Iowa 17.