Iowa refusing to overlook Middle Tennessee

Iowa has dealt with close non-conference games before, and it doesn’t want its matchup against Middle Tennessee to go down that road.

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Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley prepares for a play during a football game between Iowa and Rutgers at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, September 7, 2019. The Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights, 30-0.

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

There are two sides to Iowa’s matchup against Middle Tennessee at Kinnick on Saturday.

For the players and coaches inside the Hawkeye program, the Blue Raiders can’t be overlooked, or a big blemish will be created on Iowa’s football schedule.

But for those outside the program, this game serves as a prelude for when Iowa’s Big Ten schedule ramps up against Michigan on Oct. 5.

That makes things more difficult for the Hawkeyes.

“I think it’s one of the bigger challenges a team faces when people on the outside are saying, ‘Oh, you should win this game,’” Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley said. “But you just look back to when Middle Tennessee played Michigan [on Aug. 31], they played them extremely hard for three quarters… If we want to get to where we want to be at the end of the year, we can’t overlook a single opponent.”

Iowa has been down this road before.

In 2009, the Hawkeyes needed two-consecutive blocked field goals to down Northern Iowa by one, as the Panthers couldn’t get their game-winning kick attempts past the line of scrimmage.

Iowa also escaped with a 24-21 win over Arkansas State that season before going on to beat Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. 

When Stanley was a backup quarterback in 2016, North Dakota State shocked the Hawkeyes in Kinnick with a 23-21 victory the game before Big Ten play began.

Iowa hasn’t lost a non-conference game since.

Still, the players are reminded of those times when racking up wins over nonconference teams wasn’t easy.

“The message is if you’re not doing your best internally, you’re going to be involved in many games like that,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “You can come out on the short end, and we should have really against UNI. You could argue that. It’s just the way sports are.”

There’s another reason the Blue Raiders shouldn’t be overlooked, and it starts with quarterback Asher O’Hara. 

O’Hara, a dual-threat signal-caller, leads Middle Tennessee with 785 yards through the air and 202 yards on the ground.

In a season-opening loss to Michigan, O’Hara completed 22 of his 32 pass attempts for 217 yards, 2 touchdowns, and an interception. He also ran for a score after avoiding a sack.

In Middle Tennessee’s lone win over Tennessee State just one week later, O’Hara threw for 367 yards, 4 touchdowns, and a pick while running for 103 yards.

When he’s playing well, the Blue Raider offense poses a threat.

Iowa has struggled with dual-threat quarterbacks before, but luckily for the Hawkeyes, they’ve already dealt with one this season. 

Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy threw for 276 yards and a touchdown and ran for another 34 yards when the teams collided on Sept. 14.

“[O’Hara’s] a very mobile guy, a lot like the quarterback we saw last game,” Iowa defensive tackle Austin Schulte said. “We just have to make sure we contain, stay in our pass rush lanes, and just are able to put a net around him as a quarterback.”

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