Time and Date: Saturday, September 18 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Network: Big Ten Network
Location: Kinnick Stadium — Iowa City, IA
Spread: Iowa (-22.5)
ESPN FPI: Iowa has 93.0% chance to win
All-time series: Iowa leads, 2-0
Last meeting: Iowa 39, Kent State 7 — September 4, 2004
Kent State Golden Flashes outlook
Kent State recovered from a season-opening loss in College Station looking like the Golden Flashes of 2020 in its home opener. The running game exploded for 494 yards and seven touchdowns scored by seven different players. Everything clicked again for the offense which dismantled FCS program VMI in a 60-10 annihilation, marking the fourth 60-point outing for the Flashes since 2019. But the schedule ramps up again, as Kent State battles its second top 10 opponent of the young season. Iowa’s defense suffocated Indiana and Iowa State and has only allowed two touchdowns all season, and the Flashes hope to shatter the trend.
After an uncharacteristic showing from the First Team All-MAC quarterback at Kyle Field, Dustin Crum returned to regular form in Week 2. The dual-threat quarterback guided the Golden Flashes to five first half touchdowns before deservedly checking out of a lopsided game at the half. Crum shook off his two picks against Texas A&M to complete 12/17 passes for 180 yards when hosting VMI.
He connected with Syracuse transfer Nykeim Johnson for his first touchdown pass of the season and also bolted for a 35-yard rushing score in the first quarter. Crum, a master of zone read concepts, is averaging 70 rushing yards per contest and he’ll be the most mobile quarterback Iowa has faced this season. In order to gain ground on this Hawkeye defense, Crum’s scrambling ability must be on full display. If he can force Iowa to send out spies and play contain on the edges, that should provide more openings looks downfield for the star quarterback.
Kent State finished second in the country in rushing offense in 2020 and the team is situated at the same spot through two games. The Golden Flashes logged 494 yards on a hapless VMI defense and five different players eclipsed the 65-yard threshold. Kent State’s rushing offense quietly succeeded against Texas A&M as well. Despite only accruing 10 points in College Station, Kent State went rampant for 226 rushing yards on an average of five per carry.
Sean Lewis’ offense presents a mixed bag at running back, spreading the wealth across the depth chart rather than overloading a lead back. Marquez Cooper was the ringleader of the group last week with a 119-yard performance on 12 carries. Xavier Williams led all Kent State rushes the previous week, and the bulldozer back Bryan Bradford is certain to earn a handful of reps on the ground. But nobody has registered 100 yards on Iowa’s rushing defense. Indiana was limited to 77 and Iowa State only churned out 87. This will be the most stout rushing attack Kent State faces all season, and the upset opportunity is only on the table if the Flashes are able to puncture the Hawkeyes’ unforgiving front seven.
Secondary second to none in takeaways
The most promising takeaway from the 41-10 loss to Texas A&M was that Kent State’s secondary is designed to compete with the best. The Golden Flashes’ defense only allowed 10 first half points and wound up intercepting the Aggies on four occasions in the opener.
Veteran cornerback Elvis Hines hasn’t been an easy matchup for opposing wideouts. The ballhawk is already making an imprint on the box scores with three interceptions across two games. But he’s only tied for the team lead. The other starting cornerback Montre Miller picked off three passes in the win over VMI last week. Overall, it equates to eight team interceptions through two games. Factor in the safety department which features the team’s tackling leaders Dean Clark and C.J. Holmes, and Kent State’s secondary forms a complete unit and one of the premier positions groups in the MAC.
Moving the ball through the air has not been Iowa’s specialty, so if there’s a considerable advantage Kent State hopes to gain against the No. 5 team in college football, this will be it.
Iowa Hawkeyes outlook
No preseason ranked team has risen higher in the polls than the Hawkeyes. Entering the season at No. 18 in the AP Poll, the Hawkeyes only took two games to rise to No. 5 in the nation and they hold the coveted designation as the highest ranked Big Ten program. Iowa’s dominance has been correlated with heroic defensive performances. The Hawkeyes are allowing fewer than 12 points per game and exhibit the ability to stymie the run, prevent completions, and most importantly, force opportune takeaways. Iowa’s defense now faces arguably its greatest challenge yet in containing the highest scoring offense in the land from 2020.
Pick party in Iowa
Kent State leads the country in interceptions with eight, but Iowa does not lag far behind in that department. The Hawkeyes stand alone in second place with six interceptions this season, splitting the takeaways evenly between Indiana and Iowa State. Against Indiana, it was the Riley Moss show and the cornerback exchanged two Hoosier interceptions for two Hawkeye touchdowns. In the featured showdown in Ames, cornerback Matt Hankins stepped up to the occasion with two interceptions around midfield.
Teams are hardly completing over 50 percent of passing attempts against this defense. Kent State counters with the ever-accurate Dustin Crum, who connected on 73.5 percent of throws in 2020. How Crum fares against the top cornerback duo in the country at the moment is the primary matchup to watch in Iowa City.
Only kind of offensive
It’s not typical to see Kirk Ferentz-led teams ignite opposing defenses for 40 or 50 points each week. Iowa prefers to gobble up offenses, win field position battles, and ground the ball until resistance is met. This year’s Iowa team only has four offensive touchdowns, compared to three defensive touchdowns. Thus, the Hawkeyes will need to generate more offense in order to set themselves up for long-term success this season.
Quarterback Spencer Petras hasn’t been called on to air it out much. The second-year starter has issued 48 attempts, but only 24 have wound up in the hands of intended targets. Petras fired his first and only touchdown pass this season last week, a beautiful 26-yard dime in between two Iowa State defenders right before halftime. The 6’5” California native has proven to be equipped with a spectacular arm, but oftentimes, he is under heavy duress. On six occasions this season, Petras has been sacked and Iowa’s offensive line must fortify the unit in order to bring life into the passing game.
The run game shined against Indiana on Week 1, but Iowa State presented a lot of problems for Tyler Goodson and Co., holding the Hawkeyes to 67 collective rushing yards. But fortunately for Iowa, Kent State’s defense allowed 303 rushing yards to Texas A&M and permitted three 160+ yard rushers in four games last year. Improving first and second leveling tackling is an emphasis for Kent State, and this is an area Iowa would prefer to exploit.
As if the secondary isn’t brutal enough, Iowa presents one of the nation’s most potent linebacking corps. In Iowa’s 4-3 scheme, Jack Campbell resides in the heart of the unit and he is a quarterback’s worst nightmare. He blitzes with menacing speed and finishes with perfect form hits every time, and that tackling ability translates to the run game. Campbell ranks second on the roster with 14 tackles and he even picked up a touchdown last week on a pivotal scooping scores.
The team lead in tackles belongs to Seth Benson, who has also contributed to Iowa’s absurd turnover output this season. Benson picked off Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy in the third quarter last week, presenting a degree of coverage ability for the Iowa linebacking corps. Benson should play the most important role this week for Iowa’s defense with a task of bottling up Crum’s dual threat abilities.
Luckily for Kent State, this matchup won’t hinder the team’s ability to win its first MAC championship since 1972. Head coach Sean Lewis has done a phenomenal job building a perennial cellar dweller into a respectable, contending team. But what a brutal schedule Kent State faces, as it battles its second top 10 team on the road in three weeks.
Texas A&M’s defense permitted the Flashes to cross midfield often, but Kent State couldn’t reach the end zone once with its first team offense. Expect more of the same from an Iowa defense which hasn’t been budged whatsoever this season.
Iowa creates its own opportunities in the turnover department, and it’s not luck. The Hawkeyes ranked seventh in the FBS in producing takeaways in 2020 so it’s no surprise their cornerbacks are picking off passes left and right in 2021. While Kent State usually maintains efficiency in the passing game, Iowa is a tough puzzle to solve and there may be growing pains for the aerial attack in this one.
Lastly, Kent State’s run defense didn’t put together the most inspiring performance against Texas A&M and this was a unit which consistently allowed rushers to enjoy career days in 2020. Expect Tyler Goodson to finally cross the century mark this season as Iowa’s offensive MVP as he leads the team to a comfortable win in Iowa City.
Prediction: Iowa 34, Kent State 14