Week 3 scouting notebook: Iowa vs. Kent State

The Hawkeyes face a Golden Flashes team with a high-tempo offense and a defense known for forcing turnovers.

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Jerod Ringwald

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras celebrates a touchdown from running back Tyler Goodson during a football game between No. 18 Iowa and No. 17 Indiana at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor


Kent State’s offense has a need — a need for speed.

The Golden Flashes run plays in a flash. Iowa’s defensive players said that Kent State’s offense prefers to run a play every 16-18 seconds, which makes for a tempo the Hawkeyes don’t see much in the Big Ten.

“They’re up-tempo, they like to try and get you out of your gaps and have you second-guessing your assignments,” Iowa defensive end Zach VanValkenburg said on Tuesday. “So we have to play fundamental football and know where we need to be to combat that tempo.”

No. 5 Iowa knows that preparing for Kent State’s tempo is going to be difficult — particularly early in the game. When the Golden Flashes are going off scripted plays on the opening drives of the game, they’ll have the opportunity to go from play to play quicker.

VanValkenburg and Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell both stressed that maintaining assignments and communicating with other defenders will be key to making sure the stout Hawkeye defense doesn’t get burned.

That started with practice throughout the week. But in many ways, Iowa won’t know what it’s up against until the first whistle sounds.

“Just like if you play an option team, it is hard to simulate,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “There are things you do in practice, but you can’t get it just the way it’s going to be during game time. It’s one more adjustment. One more uniqueness.”

Marquee matchup: Spencer Petras vs. Kent State secondary

Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras has stressed playing turnover-free football this season. And so far, he’s succeeded. The second-year starter has yet to throw an interception or fumble the football through two games. But Petras and the Hawkeye offense face a defense this weekend that has intercepted more passes than any other defense in the country.

Kent State leads the nation with eight interceptions this season. Iowa is second with six picks. Both of the Golden Flashes’ starting cornerbacks have multiple interceptions through two games of the 2021 season. Iowa’s offense is last among all Power Five schools offensively, only averaging 238 yards per game through the first two weeks of the season. Petras is last in the Big Ten with just over 125 passing yards per game and a completion percentage of 50 percent. But that’s been enough for the Hawkeyes through the first two games of the year.

Petras struggled with taking care of the football at points last season. He threw five interceptions during eight starts in 2020, including a three-pick performance against Northwestern last year. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz called Kent State’s cornerbacks opportunistic at his press conference on Tuesday, noting they are always positioned well and aggressive enough to get their hands on the football.

Iowa is a heavy favorite over Kent State. What could keep things close is if Petras is reckless with the football and Iowa’s offense stalls out.

Getting to know the Golden Flashes

To learn more about Kent State, The Daily Iowan interviewed The Kent Stater’s Sports Editor Jimmy Oswald.

Below is the Q&A. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

The Daily Iowan: What makes Kent State’s rushing attack as dynamic as it is? The team is averaging 289 rushing yards a game this season.

Oswald: They have a veteran offensive line. Most of their linemen have at least two or three seasons under their belt. That definitely helps when you have a line that is so experienced. They have a couple of threats. Marquez Cooper is a sophomore and he’s been killing it this year. Their running back depth is really impressive, too. They also have the threat of the run-pass option under Dustin Crum. That can keep defenses guessing sometimes.

DI: Iowa’s players are really preaching that Kent State likes to go with tempo on offense. How important of a piece is that to Kent State’s offense?

Oswald: That’s one of the biggest things under [head coach Sean] Lewis that they preach. They call it “flash-fast offense.” They really like to do it, especially to start off a game. Last week they were out there snapping the ball every 10-20 seconds. They were going super quick. They drove down the field and were in the end zone in a matter of minutes. That’s definitely something you’re going to see a lot out of them.

DI: Kent State is one of the few teams in the country that has more turnovers forced than Iowa. What makes Kent State’s secondary so prone to picking off passes?

Oswald: You’re gonna see Elvis Hines, a fifth-year cornerback. He’s really been killing it this year. Their cornerbacks have been really good. I don’t want to say that it’s come as a surprise, because I think they had some success last year. But this year they’ve started off really hot. Their cornerbacks have the ability to track the ball and make the most of an opportunity. You’re going to hear the secondary give a lot of credit to the pass rush, though. That secondary is full of ballhawks. I think what they really do is read the ball. You can see them track it and get up to make a play.

DI: In Week 1, at least for the first half, Kent State kept it close with Texas A&M. What worked for Kent State in keeping it close with another top-10 opponent?

Oswald: [Kent State’s] defense was huge in that game in shutting down anything Texas A&M tried in the first half. Their offense definitely could’ve done more to keep it closer and maybe even take a lead against a team like that. This defense does a very good job at shutting down the passing game. They’re really good at keeping offenses out of the end zone. They have a bend-don’t break type of defense going on right now. I think that was the big thing against Texas A&M. Once they got down to the red zone, Kent State started to shut them down.

DI: Iowa is the heavy favorite in this one. What, in your mind, does Kent State need to do to keep this one close?

Oswald: Step up the offense. They have a lot of offensive weapons. It was 10-3 against A&M in the first half. If they can do something like that against Iowa and get the offense going … If you go into halftime with a lead against a team like Iowa, you’re going to have a chance.

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