Bye week, Middle Tennessee come at good time for Hawkeye football

Iowa football looks to get healthy during its bye week after a costly opening three weeks.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa defensive back Geno Stone sits injured on the field during a football game between Iowa and Rutgers at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, September 7, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights, 30-0. (Shivansh Ahuja/The Daily Iowan)

Pete Mills, Sports Reporter

Injuries happen in football, but Iowa is banged up quite a bit in its fourth week of the season, especially after the Hawkeyes’ win over Iowa State in Week 3.

With no football game this weekend and a Group-of-Five opponent in Middle Tennessee State coming to Iowa City on Sept. 28, this looser stretch comes at a great time for Iowa, specifically on the defensive side.

The defense is notably thin in the secondary, forcing young players to take a lot of reps in games with very few substitutions.

Kaevon Merriweather, Matt Hankins, Riley Moss, and Julius Brents are all veteran members of the secondary, but none were active in the Hawkeyes’ game against the Cyclones.

The injuries are all expected to be short-term, but they clearly damaged Iowa. Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy threw for 276 yards and a touchdown, and the Cyclone offense managed 2 passing touchdowns that went for 50 yards or more.

Even though the secondary has struggled at times, the injuries of veteran members has given opportunities to young players, such as D.J. Johnson, to make more of an immediate impact. Johnson was burned for a 53-yard Cyclone pass on a trick play in the first quarter, but he still went on to record 2 pass breakups and a Co-Big Ten Freshman of the Week nod.

“He grew up [during the game],” Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker said. “Does he have a lot more to go? Yeah, he has a long ways to go, and he knows that, and he worked hard [Wednesday].”

Parker said the lack of depth has also affected game planning. The Hawkeyes went with zone coverage quite a bit in the win over Iowa State in Week 3, even though they largely went with a nickel set to start off the year.

When down several defensive backs, it becomes difficult to run the nickel, a formation largely dependent on defensive backs. Iowa hasn’t run much nickel in several weeks, but Parker said fans might see more of it if the team can get more players healthy.

“[It will depend] on who we are playing and what their personnel is going to be,” he said. “If we can adjust, we’re going to try and get into match personnel as much as we can.”

Conversely, injuries have also affected the offensive side of the ball.

Offensive lineman Alaric Jackson was sidelined during Iowa’s Week 1 win over Miami (Ohio) with an injury to his right knee. His timeline remains unclear, although he’s expected to return during the season.

Running back Mekhi Sargent has not missed any games, but offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said a wrist injury limited his snaps against Iowa State. Similar to injuries on the secondary, an effect of this has been increased snaps for freshman back Tyler Goodson.

“You look at what [Goodson] has done,” Ferentz said. “He’s done some really good things. Toren [Young] has been really good. And certainly Mekhi has been the workhorse, the jack-of-all-trades, but with him dinged up on Saturday, we felt like it was best to perhaps not give him quite as many snaps, trying to be as smart as we could with his injury.”

There’s never a good time for injuries to plague a team, but with a bye week and Middle Tennessee State coming next, it could be worse. After that, the crux of Iowa’s season in the Big Ten begins with matchup against Michigan on the road.

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