IOWA CITY, Iowa – It’s tough to imagine two more emotionally charged wins than the ones Iowa experienced the last two weeks. As a result, the Hawkeyes must avoid the possibility of a letdown on Saturday.
Winless North Texas comes to Kinnick Stadium (2:30 p.m. CT, ESPNU) following Iowa’s comeback victory at rival Iowa State on Sept. 12 and last weekend’s last-second triumph versus Pittsburgh. The Hawkeyes are a 25.5-point favorite.
"We have good leaders on this team and they remind guys that we have another week ahead of us and we have to continue to keep growing and get better as a team," Senior Receiver Jacob Hillyer said.
Iowa is attempting to start the season 4-0 for the first time since 2009, when they finished 11-2 and defeated Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl. Senior Receiver Tevaun Smith admits that the Hawkeyes might have to guard against a letdown this week but agrees with Hillyer that the team carries the right mindset into its next match-up.
"We just know we have to execute on Saturday," he said. "We can’t let down our guard no matter what team we’re playing. I don’t know North Texas’ record and how they’ve been doing but they can win. We can’t let that happen."
Iowa began last season 6-2 before dropping four of its last five contests. It’s returned to trying to take one game at a time, no matter how cliche it might be.
"There is that possibility (of a letdown), certainly, if you’re not careful," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "To me it’s kind of like everything else, it gets back to the mindset of the football team and just understanding and realizing how important every week is, not just certain weeks in a season.
"That’s one reason we don’t gear for certain opponents. We just don’t make a habit of that. The message we’re trying to get across to our football team is each and every week we have a chance to grow and develop."
A few of the Iowa players mentioned Ferentz’s history with North Texas Coach Dan McCarney. They worked as assistants under Hayden Fry with the Hawkeyes during the ’80s then coached against each other during the ’00s when McCarney was the head man at Iowa State.
There’s also the story line of Mean Green Quarterback Andrew McNulty being a Iowa City High graduate. But that and the McCarney connection aren’t likely to move the emotional needle much for this current group of Hawkeyes.
They’re facing a North Texas team that after a bye week to start the season lost its opener, 31-13, against SMU. Rice knocked the Mean Green off, 38-24, Saturday in Denton.
North Texas ranks 97th nationally in rush offense (143.5 yards per game) while the Hawkeyes sit at 5th in stopping the run (51.0 YPG). That’s not a favorable combination for the Mean Green, to say the least.
Most statistics heavily favor Iowa heading into Saturday’s matchup. But as Ferentz said Tuesday, games aren’t won on paper. Upsets happen every week in college football and Iowa is trying to avoid one.
"I’m confident in this team," Junior Cornerback Greg Mabin said. "We’re a mature team. We understand that you’re going to need your best every week, each and every game. Anybody can beat anybody any given week.
"We understand that going into it. We’re preparing just like we prepared the past few weeks. We’ve been getting after it at practice and I believe that we’re going to be ready."
Time, TV, Announcers: 2:30 p.m. CT on ESPNU with Anish Shroff and Ahmad Brooks.
The Series: This is the first meeting between the schools.
Betting Line: Iowa opened as a 26.5-point favorite, a number that dropped into the 24.5-25 range as of Wednesday.
-North Texas is 0-7 Against The Spread in its last seven road games.
-Iowa is 4-1 ATS in its last five games in September.
Match-up to Watch: A lot of eyes will focus on McNulty in his return home. He needs to perform well against a stingy Iowa defense for his team to have a chance to pull off the upset.
The Mean Green can’t allow their signal caller to become a sitting duck, however. It must find a way to run the ball against the fifth-ranked rush defense in the country.
Running Back Antoinne Jimmerson (5-9, 220) leads North Texas with 22 carries for 134 yards and a touchdown. He’ll be working behind a relatively inexperienced offensive line outside of center Kaydon Kirby, who has 27 starts under his belt. The other four guys up front have a combined 13 starts to their credit and left tackle Jordan Murray is a freshman.
Even without the full services of defensive end Drew Ott (elbow injury), Iowa’s front four is stout. They’re fifth against the run but they also have 11 sacks to their credit and haven’t allowed opposing quarterbacks to beat them with their legs.
If the Mean Green offensive line can play the Iowa defensive line to a draw, that would be an accomplishment based on performance so far this season. If it’s one-sided in the Hawkeyes’ favor, it’s going to be a very long day for UNT.
Take Note: Iowa is one of only four schools in the country yet to allow a rushing touchdown.
Take Note, Take Two: The Hawkeyes are trying to improve to 4-0 for the first time since 2009. Iowa has advanced to a bowl game every season it has started 3-0 (2001, 2003, 2006, 2008, 2009) under Ferentz.
Non-Sports Related: Dr. Phil (McGraw) earned his Ph.D in clinical psychology at UNT.
Did You Know?: Don Henley, Roy Orbison and Mean Joe Greene all attended what is now North Texas.
Did You Also Know?: In 2014 the Huffington Post listed Denton as the number one emerging cultural hot spot in Texas to visit while referring to Denton as "Practically an indie band factory at this point…"
North Texas Wins If… it can run the ball from start to finish.
Iowa Wins If… it plays anywhere close to its potential.
Overview: As I wrote about in the opening, there’s always a chance of a letdown. It happens in all sports. It will need to happen here for the Hawkeyes to fall.
That’s not disrespecting the Mean Green and McCarney. Iowa is the superior, deeper team playing at home.
The Hawkeyes will need to be off their game. North Texas must capitalize on those mistakes.
The Mean Green does boast speed on both sides of the ball thus being capable of big plays. Iowa is susceptible to big plays this year.
This just doesn’t feel like a Hawkeye group in danger of letting off the gas like the ones that did against Western and Central Michigan. It could have an off day but not enough to succumb to the upset.
Prediction: IOWA 38, North Texas 14.