IOWA CITY, Iowa — Kirk Ferentz’s Iowa Hawkeyes travel to Piscataway, New Jersey this weekend to begin their conference slate against Rutgers in a 6:00 p.m. matchup.
ESPN’s power football index gives the Hawkeyes a 56.7% chance of defeating the Scarlet Knights despite averaging 20 points fewer per game.
The Scarlet Knights enter conference play undefeated after narrowly escaping Week Three with a 16-14 victory over Temple.
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz met with the media Tuesday Sept. 20 to discuss the most pressing topics for the Hawkeyes as they enter conference play.
Will Keagan Johnson be active against Rutgers?
"I don't think so. He hasn't practiced yet this week, so we'll see. It's just day-to-day," Ferentz explained.
The star receiver will not be active for Saturday’s match as he battles the same nagging injury which sidelined him for the season’s first two matches. Ferentz says Johnson hasn’t practiced as of Tuesday, but his status will be evaluated daily.
Johnson had two receptions for 11 yards against Nevada, but left the game after the 34th snap. Presumed to be Iowa's top wide receiver entering this season, their offense will continue to be limited without his contributions.
Brody Brecht listed as WR1
"He's got an opportunity to really grow here, not only this week but in the next couple weeks if we can keep him on the field and keep him practicing and getting better," Ferentz said.
Top MLB pitching prospect Brody Brecht officially got his feet wet on collegiate turf against Nevada. He recorded his first career reception on a four-yard snag, his only catch of the day.
Now Brecht finds his name on the first line of the depth chart and will need to play an increased role with Johnson out.
"He has a great attitude, good ability, and we're excited to have him back," Ferentz said.
The redshirt freshman is successfully navigating the nearly insurmountable challenge of competing in two collegiate sports at the same time.
Brecht will be one of just three active scholarship wide receivers and will see increased snaps whether he’s ready or not. With limited experience, he’ll have to adjust quickly against a meaner Rutgers defense intent on exploiting his inexperience.
Spencer Petras' improving chemistry with wide receivers
"We feel like we are [seeing improvements]." Ferentz said. "If we can keep going in that direction, that trend, that's going to help guys like Arland Bruce who's been shouldering a big load, and Sam Laporta."
The Hawkeyes WR room has regained its footing, at least partially. Prior to Nico Ragaini and Keagan Johnson’s return last Saturday, the Hawkeyes had just two active scholarship wide receivers. Walk-ons Alec Wick and Jack Johnson, along with Brecht, have risen up the depth chart.
Petras seemed to have more confidence when throwing to Ragaini, a familiar face for the third-year starting quarterback. Ragaini caught two passes for 56 yards on Saturday, the most yards of any Hawkeye receiver.
RB Gavin Williams' return to the lineup has also helped bolster the Hawkeyes’ passing game. He caught three receptions for 34 yards, including a 32-yard reception which led to a 43-yard Drew Stevens field goal last Saturday.
Preparing for the Rutgers uncertain quarterback situation
"You're just never quite sure what you're going to get, and it sounds like they're not sure, either," Ferentz said of the defense's approach to Rutgers depleted quarterback room.
Both of Rutgers’ top options at quarterback, Gavin Wimsatt and Noah Vedral, will be game-time decisions on Saturday, according to head coach Greg Schiano. If both of them are unable to go, third string QB Evan Simon will man the offense. Simon completed 9 of 15 passes for an offense that struggled to move the ball in last week’s narrow 16-14 victory over the Temple Owls.
DT Noah Shannon's status
"Hoping he is [available Saturday], yeah, we'll see. We're hoping by the middle of the week he'll be ready to go," Ferentz said.
Shannon exited last week's game with an undisclosed injury. Ferentz is hopeful that Shannon will return to action on Saturday.
If Shannon is unable to go against Rutgers, Lukas Van Ness will likely slide from defensive end inside to tackle. Deontae Craig, Ethan Hurkett and Aaron Graves are expected to see increased roles along the defensive line if Shannon is inactive.
Ferentz's thoughts on the offense line after three weeks
"I think we're gaining ground, but we're not there. There's still a lot of little things that we can do a lot better, and that gets back to experience," Ferentz said of his struggling offensive line.
The offensive line has improved gradually ever since their season-opening disastrous performance in a 7-3 victory over South Dakota State. The young offensive line looks to continue building cohesion entering conference play.
Mason Richman has played well at left tackle, and is perhaps the most well-rounded offensive lineman with 16 career starts under his belt.
The first lineman to start as a true freshman since Tristan Wirfs in 2017, Connor Colby is settling in at right tackle after making 11 starts at right guard last season.
Crown jewel of the 2020 recruiting class, center Logan Jones has struggled in his first season of significant playing time. Undersized at 283 pounds, Jones will have to rely on superior athleticism to develop throughout the season in order to cement his spot on the line.
At the guard spots, Beau Stephens and Nick Dejong are still working to solidify their starting spots. Tyler Elsbury and Gennings Dunker will likely see action at guard as Iowa coaches continue searching for the best five-man offensive line combination. The line will have to continue developing if the Hawkeyes are to compete for a Big Ten West crown.
Leshon Williams' status, Kaleb Johnson's breakout performance
"He's full speed and doing great," Ferentz said of Williams, who missed the Nevada matchup with an injury.
Running backs Gavin and Leshon Williams (no relation) could both be full-go for the first time all season against Rutgers. This gives the Hawkeyes three capable running backs with the emergence of true freshman Kaleb Johnson.
"Yeah, no question. If you earn it, you're going to get it. He certainly has earned it. He's done a really good job," Ferentz said of Johnson's outbreak performance in which he led the Hawkeyes with seven carries for 103 yards.
Johnson is emerging as a premier playmaker after scoring touchdown runs of 55 and 40 yards. With a unique combination of size and speed, Iowa coaches are excited about Johnson’s development and potential impact this season.
True freshman RB Jaziun Patterson also got his feet wet in Week Three with six carries for 20 yards, including a career-long six-yard carry.
LB Jestin Jacobs Status
Jacobs "[has] a shot, I think, to be back," Ferentz said of the starting cash linebacker who exited Iowa's Week One match with an injury.
Logan Lee's emergence as a leader
Ferentz had high praise for the Quad City area native. "He's got great attitude, great skill. Everything about him you love. Now he's starting to play at a little better tempo and speed. So my point there is he's a respected player, and then also a tremendous human being. I think guys look up to him. The biggest thing is he just gives great effort. He's been doing that since he got here, whether it's out-of-season program or football," Ferentz said of Lee.
The 2019 Orion High School graduate is now in his second season as a starting defensive tackle for Iowa's elite defense. With Lee defending the interior line, Iowa's defense is ranked fourth in yards per game allowed. Yahya Black's season-ending injury means that younger linemen such as Louie Stec, Jeremiah Pittman and Aaron Graves will look to Lee for guidance as they hope to emerge into the rotation.
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