Defense on display when Iowa faces Rutgers

Defense on display when Iowa faces Rutgers

Do not expect a high-scoring shootout when Iowa meets Rutgers in both teams’ Big Ten opener Saturday at Piscataway, N.J.

Not only do both teams rank top-10 nationally in total defense and top-25 in scoring defense, but both also have struggled to produce consistently on offense.

The Hawkeyes (2-1) started the year by barely defeating FCS foe South Dakota State 7-3 with two safeties and a field goal rather than one touchdown. After falling to Iowa State 10-7, Iowa’s offense finally struck the right chord in last week’s 27-0 win over Nevada, as Kaleb Johnson ran for 103 yards and two touchdowns on just seven carries.

Then there’s the Scarlet Knights (3-0), who dropped 66 points on FCS Wagner two weeks ago but squeaked by Temple 16-14 last Saturday without an offensive touchdown. Rutgers only managed 59 passing yards, instead winning with three field goals and a pick-6 by Shaquan Loyal.

“Part of it was technical. Part of it was schematic … and part of it was cultural,” Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said of the offensive struggles. “So throw all three things together, and you had kind of a perfect storm. But we are moving. We are learning from it and we are moving forward and we need to because we have an opponent with as stout a defense as there is in the country.”

Rutgers must cope with a Hawkeyes defense tied for second in FBS with 13 total points allowed, including just one touchdown. And Iowa — which ranks last among 131 FBS teams with 217.7 yards per game — now faces a Rutgers defense allowing 240.3 per game, 10th in the nation.

“You watch film on them — I don’t want to say they’re the same as us, but there’s a lot of parallels, I think,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “In terms of, they’ve got a system defensively and offensively they believe in. They’ve got big physical guys that are athletic and play hard and they don’t do dumb things. They make you earn anything you get.”

Two Rutgers quarterbacks will be game-time decisions, Schiano said: Gavin Wimsatt, who came up limping early in the Temple game and did not return, and senior Noah Vedral, who’s yet to play this year while recovering from an upper-body injury. Evan Simon started and took most of the snaps against Temple.

The programs have only met twice since Rutgers joined the Big Ten. Iowa won 14-7 in 2016 and 30-0 in 2019.

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