Iowa football takes on conference opener, Rutgers

The Iowa offense looked good to go in Week 1 and is now fixated on Saturday’s Big Ten opener against Rutgers.

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Iowa football takes on conference opener, Rutgers

Iowa defensive back Michael Ojemudia watches a play during the Iowa football game against Miami (Ohio) at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, August 31, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Redhawks 38-14.

Iowa defensive back Michael Ojemudia watches a play during the Iowa football game against Miami (Ohio) at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, August 31, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Redhawks 38-14.

Katina Zentz

Iowa defensive back Michael Ojemudia watches a play during the Iowa football game against Miami (Ohio) at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, August 31, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Redhawks 38-14.

Katina Zentz

Katina Zentz

Iowa defensive back Michael Ojemudia watches a play during the Iowa football game against Miami (Ohio) at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, August 31, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Redhawks 38-14.

Pete Mills, Football Reporter

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The second half of Iowa football’s Week 1 matchup against Miami (Ohio) was a snapshot of what the Hawkeyes could be this season. The hard part now remains: replicating the 30-minute performance.

Iowa is now locked on its first Big Ten matchup of the season, which comes against Rutgers on Saturday. It’s only the second meeting in history between the two teams, and it’s the earliest conference game Iowa has played in head coach Kirk Ferentz’s tenure at Iowa.

Though an early conference game, the offense might just be in midseason form. Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley went 21-for-30 against the RedHawks, completing a pass to 10 different receivers en route to the 38-14 Iowa win. Running back Mekhi Sargent tacked on 156 total yards and a touchdown.

Rutgers has had a rocky past several years, posting an 8-29 record since 2016, the same year head coach Chris Ash took the helm. But he now has a quarterback in McLane Carter — a transfer from Texas Tech — and Iowa could have problems with a tricky Rutgers offense on Saturday. The Scarlet Knights put up 554 yards and 48 points last week in their win over Massachusetts.

Meeting the Rutgers air attack is an Iowa secondary that gave up only 186 passing yards and forced 1 interception last week. The unit is young this season, so it leans on veterans like senior Michael Ojemudia — who grabbed an interception from RedHawk quarterback Brett Gabbert last week — to help young talent develop.

Ojemudia took a leadership role in the game and was visibly animated while talking to redshirt freshman D.J. Johnson about iffy defensive coverage.

“Everything happens really fast [in games],” Ojemudia said. “That’s the reason I got mad at D.J., because we’ve seen that play in practice. But in the game, it’s happening so fast, you don’t even realize it … It’s really hard [to be new], especially at free safety. We had some errors in the game with blown coverage, and that’s one of the things we need to improve on. One wrong thing, and it can change the whole game, so that’s why breaking in two young guys is even harder.”

RELATED: Schott set for first start against Rutgers

The secondary has this game circled, especially because Carter threw 3 interceptions last week. Still, Carter has some weapons to work with at his new starting quarterback gig. Scarlet Knight running back Isaih Pacheco rushed for 156 yards and 4 touchdowns a week ago, and receiver Bo Melton gained 127 yards through the air and took a catch to the house.

“They clearly made progress last year,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I think that carried over into this season… [Carter] played a good game the other night, threw the ball all over the place and threw the ball really well. They’ve got two skilled running backs that I think are as good as anybody has got in the conference, but those guys are really dangerous players, and they’ve got good skill guys outside, as well.”

But Iowa won’t take Week 2 on at full strength.

Starting offensive lineman Alaric Jackson left the game last week with a knee sprain and is expected to miss at least two weeks. The disaster was mitigated as players such as Tristan Wirfs and Kyler Schott stepped up, but they’ll have to do much of the same against Rutgers.

“The O-line just did a really good job of giving a push,” running back Toren Young said. “They played really well [last week]. And they were opening up holes and we press our runs and make our cuts. It was a clear picture [of what we can be].”

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