2020 Season Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes

By Dylan Burd on October 2, 2020 at 9:30 am
Dec 27, 2019; San Diego, California, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette (6) carries a kickoff return to score a touchdown in the second quarter against the Southern California Trojans during the Holiday Bowl at SDCCU Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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Iowa always seems to be the conference game that Penn State fans are most worried about other than Ohio State and Michigan. There's good reason for it, as Iowa is 47-19 in the last five years, dating back to the 2015 season. 

Additionally, there are three guarantees when Penn State plays Iowa: a close game, a weird score, and a bizarre play (safety, fake punt). Last season, Penn State won the game at Kinnick Stadium 17-12 with the weird score coming due to a missed two-point conversion at the end of the game and the bizarre play being when Pat Freiermuth's TD was called back and ruled down at the 1-yard line. 

The year prior, Penn State barely scraped by Iowa at Beaver Stadium 30-24 in a game that featured two Iowa safeties and a touchdown thrown by the Hawkeyes' punter. In 2017, Penn State won on a Juwan Johnson touchdown with no time left on the clock. How can it not be included that Penn State once lost to Iowa in 2004 by a score of 6-4?! 

Despite the randomness of Penn State's history vs. Iowa, the bottom line is that the Nittany Lions have won their last six meetings with the Hawkeyes dating back to 2011. Let's take a deep dive into the team that Iowa will be putting on the field this season at Beaver Stadium. 

Iowa at a Glance

Head Coach Kirk Ferentz (22nd season, 162-104 overall, all with Iowa)
2019 Record 10-3 (6-3 Big Ten)
2019 Postseason Won the Holiday Bowl vs. USC (49-24)
Biggest Losses QB Nate Stanley, OT Tristan Wirfs, DE AJ Epenesa, DT Cedrick Lattimore, DT Brady Reiff, CB Michael Ojemudia, S Geno Stone, LB Kristian Welch
Biggest Returnees RB Tyler Goodson, WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette, WR Brandon Smith, WR Tyrone Tracy, WR Nico Ragaini, OT Alaric Jackson, C Tyler Linderbaum, DE Chauncey Golston, CB Matt Hankins 
Summary Despite Iowa losing several key players, the Hawkeyes are also returning some very solid talent. This team may take a slight drop-off from last year due to their losses being at several key positions, but expect Iowa to be a tough game as they normally are. 
Matchup with PSU Penn State's defensive line should cause problems for Iowa's first-year starting quarterback, redshirt sophomore Spencer Petras. Where the Nittany Lions could experience problems is dealing with Iowa's four returning wide receivers. Still, this is a game that Penn State should win. 

oFFENSE

Iowa's offense is going to completely depend on the play of first-year starter, redshirt sophomore Spencer Petras. He will replace long-time signal-caller Nate Stanley, who threw for 2951 yards and 16 touchdowns in his senior season and was drafted in the 7th round by the Minnesota Vikings. Petras, a former three-star recruit from California has only thrown 11 passes in his college career, completing six of them for 25 yards. Without out-of-conference games to get Petras prepared, it's going to be tough for him to have immediate success in the Big Ten.

That being said, Petras has been given a pretty good group of skill position players to work with. Sophomore RB Tyler Goodson returns after running for 638 yards and five touchdowns on 134 carries in his first season. Additionally, Goodson can catch passes out of the backfield, as he had 24 receptions for 166 yards.

Iowa also returns their top-four wide receivers, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, Tyrone Tracy Jr., Nico Ragiani, and Brandon Smith. Smith-Marsette caught 44 passes for 722 yards and five touchdowns in 2019. Tracy Jr., the redshirt sophomore, caught 36 passes for 589 yards and three touchdowns, and Ragini, also a redshirt sophomore, had 46 receptions for 439 yards and two touchdowns. Smith, the had 37 catches for 439 yards and five touchdowns. Furthermore, Iowa returns their top tight end, sophomore Sam Laporta, who had 15 receptions for 188 yards last season. 

While the position players will be a big help to Petras, losing the 13th overall pick, OT Tristian Wirfs, will hurt. However, he does have OT Alaric Jackson, 2021 NFL Draft prospect returning to help keep him protected. 

DEFENSE

Iowa loses a decent amount of key players on defense. The Hawkeye's sack-leader with 11.5, DE AJ Epenesa left for the NFL Draft after the 2019 season. He was a second-round pick of the Buffalo Bills. Iowa also lost their interceptions leader, cornerback Michael Ojemudia, and safety Geno Stone. Both players are also currently in the NFL. However, the Hawkeyes do return DE Chauncey Golston, who had three sacks and an interception a season ago 

In 2019, Iowa ranked fourth in the Big Ten in rushing yards allowed per game (112.8) and 5th in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed per game (195.7). The Hawkeyes usually have a very good defense, but it'll be hard for them to repeat last year's performance given their losses at important positions. 

SPECIAL TEAMS 

Keith Duncan is back to handle the kicking duties. He hit 85.3% of his field goals last season, going 29/34 and hit 32/32 of his extra points. His longest field goal was 49 yards. The punter will be Ryan Gersonde, a junior who missed the 2019 season because of an injury. He hasn't been the punter since 2017. Senior Max Cooper will return punts, and WR Ihmir Smith-Marsette will return kicks. 

2020 OUTLOOK

You could expect Iowa to take a step back from their 10-3 season in 2019. This isn't an unexpected development as most teams moving on from a long-time starter usually go through somewhat of a transition year. However, if Spencer Petras ends up performing at a high level, he has the weapons to provide a solid offensive core. The question then would come down to the defense, who's going to have to figure out how to generate a pass-rush without AJ Epenesa. The Hawkeyes will also take a step back in pass defense, a welcome sight for Sean Clifford and Co. As a result, this is a game that Penn State should win this season. Expect another solid year out of Iowa, but they'll be a step behind Wisconsin and Minnesota in the Big Ten West. 

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