Hawkeye football set to kick off season against new Miami (Ohio) team

Iowa football received a gift in Oliver Martin's eligibility on Wednesday. Now, it wants to turn that into a win.

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Hawkeye football set to kick off season against new Miami (Ohio) team

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette avoids a defender during Iowa's game against Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, October 27, 2018. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 30-24.

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette avoids a defender during Iowa's game against Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, October 27, 2018. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 30-24.

Nick Rohlman

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette avoids a defender during Iowa's game against Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, October 27, 2018. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 30-24.

Nick Rohlman

Nick Rohlman

Iowa wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette avoids a defender during Iowa's game against Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, October 27, 2018. The Nittany Lions defeated the Hawkeyes 30-24.

Anna Kayser, Sports Editor

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As weeks go for the Hawkeyes, they couldn’t have asked for a better one leading up to Saturday’s season-opening matchup against Miami (Ohio). 

On Wednesday, the NCAA and Big Ten Conference announced that wide receiver Oliver Martin is eligible for Iowa’s opening game under the lights — a big sigh of relief in terms of Iowa’s receiving game. 

Wide receivers Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette are slated for the start come 6:40 p.m., giving quarterback Nate Stanley a couple familiar faces in the passing lanes. With the loss of tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant to the first round of the NFL Draft, Nate Wieting and Drew Cook have their shot to step up.

“Like every year, you never know what’s going to happen,” Smith-Marsette said. “Just to come in during the offseason, get some throwing in with [Stanley], it’s not just me and [Smith]. You’ve got other players that could step in and help us.”

As far as squaring up against the RedHawks, the Hawkeyes are no strangers. They are 4-0 in the history’s four matchups, the closest contest ending 29-24 in 2002. In 2016 –  their most recent meeting — Iowa put the claw down for a 45-21 finish. 

Miami got off to a slow start last season but pulled it together for an even 6-6 record. However, it’s not even close to the same team. The offense features a fresh quarterback and new receivers, while its defense lost its leading linebacker. 

RELATED: Iowa running backs look to share success this season

The key to competing against the RedHawks’ defense is going to be dominance right away, and with the offseason work, that should be no problem for Nate Stanley and Company. 

“Just to get a chemistry all around is pretty good,” Smith-Marsette said. “[We were] coming in during the offseason and working with [Stanley] and let him know how we feel, him letting us know how to run certain routes and everything like that.”

With 4-0 nonconference records the past two seasons and Miami’s 0-4 record last year, the Hawkeyes have the advantage in the matchup. However, with the RedHawks’ improvement over the latter half of 2018, it could be a good test for Iowa on how to take on future Big Ten opponents. 

Miami is a strong second half team, going 16-6 over its last 22 games stretching back to 2017. However, the track record doesn’t always stand true. 

“Like a lot of first games, there’s a lot of variables, a lot of unknowns,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “You never know what any opponent is going to do in the first game. They’ve got a lot the new players just like we’ll have new players, but both sides are going to experience the same challenge that way.”

One thing that has held constant for the Hawkeyes is their running back corps, and if the throwing game takes a while to warm up, Iowa’s ground game is sure to step up.

Mehki Sargent, Toren Young, and Ivory Kelly-Martin are all available for Saturday, and if offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz runs the backs like he did last season — at least to start out non-conference play — they’ll all see carries throughout the game. 

“I’m competing every day with those guys. For me, it’s just taking a step towards a positive,” Sargent said. “I’m becoming a better running back, a better teammate and a better leader. Knowing more about the concepts and what other guys are doing is really important to watch.”

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