2019 Season Preview: Iowa Hawkeyes

By Michael Stanley on August 12, 2019 at 9:00 am
Dec 29, 2018; Atlanta, GA, USA; Michigan Wolverines quarterback Shea Patterson (2) attempts a pass during the third quarter against the Florida Gators in the 2018 Peach Bowl at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
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Penn State-Iowa has produced some absolute gems over the years. Who can forget the final-play throw from Trace McSorley to Juwan Johnson to silence a thundering Iowa crowd? Or Iowa dashing Penn State's national title hopes in 2008 and 2009? This series has created countless memories, both good and bad, for both sides.

In 2018, Iowa was having a solid but frustrating season, having lost to a slightly under-achieving Wisconsin while fighting for pivotal position in the division. They then headed into Happy Valley trying to avenge the last-second heartbreak of 2017. The outcome was the same–a loss. Losses to Purdue and Northwestern then eliminated them from the race for the B1G West title and a shot at the conference title. Iowa did, however, end the season on a high note by beating a pretty talented Mississippi State team and notching their 9th win of the season. They lose some top-end talent from their 2018 team but do bring back plenty of other talent and a lot of experience going into 2019.

Iowa at a Glance
Head Coach Kirk Ferentz (24th Season, 21st Season with Iowa), 164-122 overall (152-101 at Iowa)
2018 Record 9-4, 5-4 (2nd B1G West)
2018 Postseason Outback Bowl (27-22 W against Mississippi State)
Biggest Losses TE TJ Hockenson, TE Noah Fant, DE Anthony Nelson, S Amani Hooker, WR Nick Easley, OC Keegan Render, DT Matt Nelson
Biggest Returnees QB Nate Stanley, DE AJ Epenesa, OT Alaric Jackson, OT Tristan Wirfs, S Geno Stone, CB Julius Brents
Summary Iowa has always performed above their recruiting rating. Have they finally solved the talent part of the equation?
Matchup with PSU Under Ferentz, Iowa absolutely owned Joe Paterno and Penn State. Ever since Franklin was hired, though, the tables have turned and Penn State is undefeated vs. Iowa. Franklin is 3-0 against the Hawkeyes. 

Offense

This certainly isn't the strength of this Iowa team. They do, however, bring back a fourth-year senior in Nate Stanley at the quarterback position. He's a big-bodied quarterback with a big arm and good ability navigating the pocket, but his overall lack of athleticism outside of the pocket and poor accuracy, particularly on deep balls, keeps him from crossing over into elite status. He's solid and very experienced but all in all, unspectacular. While he could be extremely dangerous if surrounded by top-end talent, he doesn't strike fear into teams in his current situation.

While the passing game is usually not a strength in Iowa City, the running game has a history of success, and 2019 shouldn't be any different. The Hawkeyes will boast two running backs in Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young who both contributed over 600 yards while averaging 4.7 yards per carry behind one of the better offensive lines in the conference. With two All-Big Ten caliber tackles in Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs, there should be plenty of holes for Sargent and Young to run through. If those two can find space on the ground consistently, then there's hope for the Iowa offense.

The receiving corps isn't loaded with talent but they return some productive players. The offense last year ran through Noah Fant and TJ Hockenson and they're both now in the NFL. It's tough to replace two first-round talents on offense without missing a beat. They also lost a reliable senior receiver in Nick Easley. The only receivers that return with any production are Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette. Someone will need to step up big time.

Defense

As seems to always be the case with the Hawkeyes, they will have a defense to fear. They return one of the top defensive ends in the conference and someone who could potentially be a top-10 pick in next year's NFL Draft in AJ Epenesa. The former five-star was only a rotational player last year and still led the conference in sacks with 10.5 and had another 16.5 TFL. Without any kind of leash on him this year, Epenesa could single-handedly wreak havoc against any team in the Big Ten. Limiting Epenesa will be a prime directive for the Penn State offensive line.

The linebacker group is uncharacteristically average for the Hawkeyes. Of their three projected starters, two were at roughly 50 tackles last season and the third didn't play any meaningful football. They'll likely be reliable but will be fairly easy to plan around. At least until the next great Iowa linebacker inevitably appears.

The secondary is a different story. Safety Geno Stone returns as one of the best overall safeties in the Big Ten. He picked off four passes last season, so if Clifford wants to sling it deep, he'll have to make sure he keeps his eyes on No. 9. One of the projected starters at corner, Michael Ojemudia, also returns after a three-interception season.

2019 Outlook

While this is another talented Iowa football team, it feels like they lost just a bit too much from last year. Fant and Hockenson were one of the best tight end duos in college football history and were the undeniable centerpieces of the offense. Stanley is the kind of quarterback that can be very solid but needs to be surrounded by great skill position talent to get the best out of him. Luckily for the Hawkeyes, the offensive and defensive lines are as strong as ever. If you win in the trenches, you win lots of games. AJ Epenesa is the kind of once-in-a-generation talent that Iowa needs to take full advantage of.

At a time where they have an experienced quarterback and they're solid on both sides of the line, they need to take advantage of the current layout of the B1G West. Wisconsin is breaking in a true freshman at quarterback, Purdue's talent is drastically improving but hasn't quite caught up yet, and Nebraska still has to fix their disaster of a defense. Northwestern is could be the team best situated to challenge the Hawkeyes. Iowa has a difficult schedule but this is a pretty talented team, so this team could go anywhere from 6-6 to 10-2. Or maybe they'll just finish 8-4 because Iowa.

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