Tomorrow in Iowa City, IA at 3:30 p.m. EDT, the Huskies of Northern Illinois University of the MAC Conference will take on the University of Iowa Hawkeyes of the Big Ten in the season opener for both teams.
While the Vegas line favors the Hawkeyes by 6.5, the Huskies are the team with the most to lose in Kinnick Stadium.
The 31-10 loss to Florida State in last January’s Orange Bowl gave critics of Northern Illinois’ BCS bowl bid evidence to say that the Huskies do not belong among the top teams in the nation. Northern Illinois has a chance to not only get revenge for a neutral field loss to the Hawkeyes last season, but give some legitimacy to its program by beating a Kirk Ferentz team on its home turf.
The quarterback battle is starkly contrasted. The Huskies’ senior quarterback Jordan Lynch is considered a dark horse candidate for the Heisman trophy, and having a big game leading to a win in Iowa City would help his cause. Jake Rudock of the Hawkeyes is a redshirt freshman making his first career start in his first-ever collegiate game.
There are questions for both teams as to who will contribute in the passing game. Iowa has a throng of inexperienced receivers other than Kevonte Martin-Manley, and Northern Illinois is trying to replace Martel Moore, who caught 75 passes last season. Both teams have a threat at running back in Mark Weisman for the Hawkeyes and Akeem Daniels for the Huskies.
Tight end is where the Hawkeyes have a decided advantage, as C.J. Fiederowicz is more established as a target than Northern Illinois’ Luke Eakes. Along the offensive line, both teams return several starters and as long as the groups remain healthy, both should perform well.
The defensive game plan for the Hawkeyes is simple, but not easy. Stopping Lynch from making big plays and forcing the Northern Illinois offense to put long drives together to score will be paramount for the Iowa defense.
Linebackers Anthony Hitchens, Christian Kirksey and James Morris must be disciplined and not over-pursue or bite on play fakes in order to make the Huskies drive the field.
For the Huskies, stopping the Iowa running game and forcing Rudock to make plays to beat them will be the strategy. If the Huskies can generate a pass rush similar to the one they had in 2012 Rudock will become well acquainted with the Kinnick grass. Look for senior safety Jimmie Ward of the Huskies to spend a lot of time as the eighth man in the box, clogging up running lanes and blitzing.
Last year, the Huskies were one of the best teams in the nation on punt coverage. Don’t look for either team to have an effective advantage on special teams. Questions remain about Mike Meyers, the kicker for Iowa, however.
Northern Illinois continually loads the box on defense, daring the Hawkeyes to throw. The Huskies are successful at making the Iowa offense one-dimensional, and the young receiving corps and quarterback of the Hawkeyes are unable to come up with the big plays to force the Husky defense to adjust.
On defense, the Hawkeyes simply don’t have the athletic prowess necessary to keep up with the Lynch and the Huskies’ attack. The Kinnick crowd will see their Hawkeyes go down in the sweltering heat, 30-16.
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