Missouri State runs a 3-4 defense, something Iowa doesn't see often but definitely will see when Wisconsin comes to town in November. This defense requires a monster nose tackle, and senior Eric Pearce (6-2, 306) fills that role. The ends have to be versatile threats, quick enough to rush the quarterback and physical enough to keep offensive linemen off the linebackers. Senior Anthony Grady is a giant at 6-7, 289. He also was honorable mention all-Missouri Valley Conference last season. Seniors Martin Montgomery (6-3, 267) and C.J. Randall (6-6, 273) switch at the other DE. Montgomery has eight career sacks.
In last week's home loss to Northwestern State, buck linebacker Andrew Beisel (6-2, 238) led the Bears with 10 tackles to go with two pass breakups and an interception. The 3-4 gives a defense the chance to put more speed on the field. Also, for an FCS school like MSU, it's probably easier to find linebacker bodies than defensive linemen-sized bodies. The Bears run a conventional 3-4, leaving the guards uncovered. The outside linebackers are the wildcard. They cause imbalance because you never sure which one is rushing or dropping. It also can create a bad matchup off the edge with a linebacker against a running back.
Iowa's offensive line was meaty against Northern Illinois. Iowa rushed for 202 yards and didn't surrender a negative-rushing play. The Hawkeyes showed a zone-read rushing look. Quarterback Jake Rudock didn't keep the ball, but the look caused a little distortion in the defense. Can that continue? The Hawkeyes played three running backs, with junior Mark Weisman leading the way with 100 yards on 20 carries. He also had a fumble that led to a field goal in the first quarter. Junior Damon Bullock had 17 rushes for 76 yards. Sophomore Jordan Canzeri rushed twice for 6 yards. Coach Kirk Ferentz has declared that true freshman LeShun Daniels will play this season, probably this week.
MSU's 3-4 will be a good test for Iowa's passing offense, which broke out yardage last week (Rudock's 256 yards productive), but sputtered in the second half while Iowa's 24-17 lead melted away. Iowa kept routes short and the ball outside of the hashmarks. That will go right into the teeth of four linebackers. It'll be interesting to see who blinks.
Strong safety Caleb Schaffitzel, who made a team-high 109 tackles to go with five interceptions as a sophomore last season, is preseason all-MVC. The MSU secondary has all four starters back, with free safety Mike Crutcher and cornerbacks Howard Scarborough and Sybhrian Berry. The quartet defended 34 passes last season. It also brings a combined 83 career starts into today's game. Last week, however, the Bears blew a coverage and allowed a 51-yard completion that broke a 17-17 tie.
Rudock was up-and-down in his first career start. He completed 21 of 37 for 256 yards, a TD and two interceptions. The sophomore had a few decision-making glitches. Obviously, the second interception was a quick decision compounded by a miss in ball placement. He found a comfort level with wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley and stuck pretty closely to him with 12 targets to four for the next receiver. The tight ends weren't prominent. The group combined for four targets, although Rudock and senior C.J. Fiedorowicz were really close on a post connection that Rudock rifled to a spot to get Fiedorowicz open. It would probably be healthy for the offense if Rudock looked a few different ways.
Advantage: Missouri State
The Bears run a zone-read offense. Quarterback Kierra Harris led MSU with 51 rushing yards on seven carries. He also scored a pair of 1-yard TD runs. Harris will be asked to do even more rushing this week. MSU lost running back Ryan Heaston last week with a broken collarbone. He led MSU with 424 yards last season. Mikael Cooper-Falls stepped in and rushed 12 times for 41 yards. True freshman Phoenix Johnson rushed three times for 10 yards. He could elevate in the plans this week.
The Bears' O-line is big and experienced, but it didn't move Northwestern State around. The Bears averaged just 3.5 yards on 35 carries.
Iowa loaded up to stop the run last week. It sort of did. Northern Illinois still rushed for 163 yards, but it wasn't able to control the game and averaged just 3.88 yards a carry. Iowa forced NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch to beat it with the pass, and so he did. The Hawkeyes provided decent push up front. Junior defensive tackle Carl Davis played 60-plus snaps, a career high and a possible breakthrough. The Hawkeyes also recorded six tackles for loss with end Dominic Alvis and linebacker James Morris contributing two.
Iowa had some problems here last week. Yes, Lynch is a legit QB, probably at least the Mid-American Conference player of the year and possibly picking up more than a ceremonial share of Heisman Trophy votes. A couple of factors that rub in the 275-yard, three-TD, no-interception performance: NIU had a mostly new receiving corps, parlaying two-man routes into big plays; Tommylee Lewis caught his five passes for 82 yards and two TDs in just two quarters, leaving the game early in the third quarter with an ankle injury. After Lewis' exit, the Huskies still clicked through the air.
This was a combination of little pressure on the quarterback and some blown coverages. On Lynch's 40-yard TD pass to Lewis, the NIU O-line gave Lynch enough time for Lewis to pull a triple move on cornerback Jordan Lomax. He broke free and there was no deep safety (strong safety John Lowdermilk's side of the field). Later, Lewis lined up as a running back and ran a wheel route that got behind linebacker Anthony Hitchens for a 21-yard TD. Iowa was in a cover 2 and Hitchens had no help. On a 33-yarder that allowed NIU to pull into a tie, cornerback B.J. Lowery fell short in help because of cramping.
Defensive coordinator Phil Parker ran a handful of blitzes, bringing Morris and Hitchens. Sophomore D-end Nate Meier and junior linebacker Quinton Alston were used in pass-rush roles. The D-line was asked to contain Lynch and provide pass rush. Bottom line, it wasn't there, but the coverage had breakdowns, too. How much is correctable?
MSU kicker Austin Witmer's 12 field goals last season was the most by a MSU kicker since 2004 and matched the sixth-best single-season total in school history. He made a 42-yarder last week.
Iowa had discipline problems on special teams. NIU pulled off a fake punt against Iowa's "punt safe" defense, with punter Tyler Wedel taking an option pitch 42 yards. This eventually led to a field goal. There was a major breakdown and Iowa lost contain. Kick returner Jordan Cotton showed poor decision making when he took three returns out of the end zone and ran against the grain of the blocking. He simply tried to do too much. Punter Connor Kornbrath was victimized be a false start on linebacker Christian Kirksey. That wiped out what would've been a 56-yard punt to NIU's 10. The second attempt was a 16-yard shank that set up NIU at the 50. The drive ended in a TD.
These are all fixable, sure, but Iowa's special teams have been ID'd as vulnerable. Opponents will continue to gamble and put pressure on a unit that has shown consistent breakage.
1) 0-for-7 — Iowa has lost its last seven games. The streak won't go to eight. 2) Students out and about — The UI announced this week that one section of Kinnick Stadium dedicated to student seating will be made available to the general public. There likely will be another student section opening to the public when the Big Ten season starts. At the beginning of the week, the UI had 3,000 student ticket packages still available. The Kinnick atmosphere today might not be electrifying. 3) Under pressure — MSU coach Terry Allen will enjoy a homecoming. He's an Iowa City native, a graduate of West High School. His dad once coached the UI swimming team. He'll bring an FCS team into Kinnick that finished 3-8 last season and that has had just two seasons above .500 in Allen's eight years. The school just sank $2.3 million into the program. The Bears need to be in the playoff hunt in November. Today that doesn't mean much, but there is pressure in Springfield. Advantage: Iowa
It just will. The personnel, talent gap is far too great for Missouri State. Iowa might end up sitting a few starters or having a quick hook, but this also is a team that has several new players, namely quarterback, who need to sharpening. Iowa will win by simply being.
The Bears go for broke over and over and over and come up big nearly every time. QB Harris is a nice player who can be a threat, but Iowa will be too physical. MSU will receive $425,000 for the game. That's a stark reality for FCS athletics departments, which need these "money" games. MSU will get its money's worth. The question is whether Iowa fans feel they will.
PREDICTION: Iowa 45, Missouri State 7