This Saturday marks the beginning of the 2013 season for the Iowa Hawkeyes and NIU Huskies. These two teams headed different ways after Iowa beat NIU 18-17 in the final minutes at Soldier Field last year. NIU ended up 12-2 and made it to the BCS, Iowa went 4-8 and stumbled the whole way through. This game provides for a good indication on what this NIU squad will do in 2013. Let’s take a closer look at this match-up by position group battles.
Quarterbacks – Jake Rudock will be making his first start for the Hawkeyes on Saturday. In fact, it will be his first collegiate snap ever. Then there is a guy named Jordan Lynch under center for the Huskies. Rudock was highly recruited, yet there hasn’t been a whole lot of praise on his play during spring ball.
Runningbacks – Iowa has had its issues with depth and injuries at this position recently, but they seem to be stockpiled this year. Mark Weisman will be the go to guy for the Hawkeyes. He gained most of his yards against soft opponents last year, but the Hawks seem to think he’s a stud. As for the Huskies, runningback will be run by committee. I’m not sure if Akeem Daniels will be suited up for the game, he just started practicing last week. If not, Cameron Stingily and Keith Harris will see a lot of carries and provide a serviceable game. If Akeem plays, expect a different NIU player on every down at this position as they all have different skill sets and add a lot of value.
Advantage Iowa, only because of Akeem’s uncertainty
Offensive Line – NIU returns all 5 starters and they are a very good group. They struggled a bit last year against Iowa, but that was their first game together as starters. They will keep Jordan Lynch clean and should provide a stable run game. Iowa lost their center, James Ferentz, but they return 3 total starters. This is a big group but they did struggle last year at times, they gave up 6 sacks to NIU. Two of those went to Joe Windsor who is back for the Huskies.
Advantage NIU, but it’s a good battle
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends – From practice notes, it seems Iowa hasn’t found a go to guy yet. CJ Fiderowicz is back and so is Kevonte Martin-Manley. However, they have yet to prove to be top notch assets. You always hear about CJ, but hasn’t amounted to the top TE prospect in the country he was projected to be. Iowa brought in Damond Powell who should be good, yet hasn’t proven himself in a big way in practice. NIU is in a similar boat, but many of the unknown guys have had lots of reps. Most MAC fans know about Tommylee Lewis and he will be a main target for Lynch. Guys like Da’Ron Brown, Luke Eakes, and Juwan Brescacin have had at least 8 catches and 150 yards. There is a lot of talent here for NIU. Keep your eyes open for Aregeros Turner and Chad Beebe to see if they play for the Huskies.
Advantage NIU, expect two of these NIU guys with at least 5 catches in the game. Probably Lewis and Brown. Fiderowicz will be the main target for Rudock, if they throw more than 10 times.
Defensive Line – This is a good match-up between these two groups. Iowa brings a couple guys back, and it seems Carl Davis is finally settling in at DT. They will be a big physical group. NIU only brings back one starter, Ken Bishop. He’s a load and should give Austin Blythe the new center a tough time. Joe Windsor and George Rainey will be at DE and should chase Rudock around when Iowa actually passes. Windsor killed Iowa last year.
Advantage Iowa, but NIU is a better group than many think
Linebackers – Iowa has a very good group coming back here. Anthony Hitchens is a stud. Kirksey isn’t a slouch either. These guys will do a good job against the run. It will be interesting to see how well they handle NIU’s speed when NIU comes out in 5 wide and no tight ends. Since these guys are talented, I don’t expect them to take more than two of them out at a time. However, there has been some chatter that Hitchens and Kirksey are a little banged up. NIU brings in an athletic group itself. Jamaal Bass leads the way with Rock Lemon and Boomer Mays. Michael Santacaterina will get a lot of reps too. Let’s see if they can run downhill and stop the run.
Advantage Iowa. They are very good, but you will see NIU has some solid guys as well.
Secondary – Iowa lost their best secondary player Micah Hyde but return some valuable players. Tanner Miller, BJ Lowery, and John Lowdermilk will be there best guys. They are bigger guys and I bet they try and do some press against the smaller quicker Huskie wideouts. Overall, they are a solid group. NIU returns Jimmie Ward and Dechane Durante at safety. Ward will probably cover Fiderowicz and will be playing more of a rover position in this one. At corner expect Marlon Moore, Sean Evans and Jhony Faustin to patrol the corners for the Huskies. They have all started lots of games even though Durante and Faustin were injured last year. Ward has started since he was a sophomore, Faustin and Durante have over 10 career starts a piece. Moore and Evans where both nickelbacks as well as occasional starters.
Special Teams – NIU brings back a potent returner and serviceable kickers. Iowa does as well. This one is a split, though Meyer kicked a lot of field goals against the Huskies last year.
Coaching – Kirk Ferentz has been coaching for a long time. He almost has been in Iowa City as far back as when Carey was a player at Indiana. There is about a five year difference. Advantage Kirk.
Overall, this is a solid match-up. Kinnick Stadium is an extremely tough place to play. However, I think Iowa has too many question marks to beat the Huskies. I think Jordan Lynch has a big game, especially if Hitchens and Kirksey are out. Iowa has a new QB and he doesn’t have an established player to throw to. I expect Iowa to run the ball at least 40 times and try and wear down the Huskies with force. NIU will do the opposite in approach, they will be running a pass to a run, run to pass, and snap very quickly. They will try and confuse Iowa and wear them down with speed. I think NIU finally takes the leap and takes care of business. This team is hungry and they say it isn’t revenge, but I disagree. They want this game badly. It will be a hot one in Iowa City this Saturday.
Prediction - NIU 31 Iowa 21. Iowa fans seem to think the Huskies are going to get rolled.
NIU's fresham should get their first real chance in singing the fight song in the pink locker room come Saturday.