Observations left over from the Iowa football team’s 38-14 season-opening victory over Miami of Ohio
By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Here are 14 takeaways or observations or whatever you want to call them from the Iowa football team’s 38-14 victory over Miami of Ohio in the season opener this past Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Because it seems that most lists have either five or 10 or 15 items, so I just wanted to be different.
1. Offensive lineman Justin Britt was among three true freshmen who played for Iowa in Saturday's season opener, the others being running back Tyler Goodson and tight end Sam LaPorta.
In barely 11 months, Britt has gone from having surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee to being the first true freshman on this year's team to make the depth chart.
The Indianapolis native is listed as the backup right guard behind sophomore walk-on Kyler Schott heading into Saturday's Big Ten opener against Rutgers at Kinnick Stadium. Schott was inserted in Saturday's season opener after starting left tackle Alaric Jackson injured his right knee in the first quarter and didn't return.
The fact that Britt has climbed the depth so quickly, and less than a year after having major surgery says a lot of about his talent, his work ethic and his ability to heal.
2. Speaking of Schott, a friend of mine who knows a great deal about playing on the offensive line said his biggest take from the victory over Miami of Ohio was Schott’s performance in the trenches. My friend was very impressed with Schott’s toughness, his ability to get leverage and that he always played through the whistle.
The 6-2, 290-pound Schott is a graduate of North Linn High School where he made first-team all-state in football as a senior and was a four-year letterman in football and wrestling and a two-year letterman in track and field and baseball.
3. Much has been written and said about Iowa’s switch last season to a 4-2-5 defensive alignment that includes five defensive backs, but the traditional 4-3 alignment was used a lot more against Miami of Ohio.
There appeared to be some communication breakdowns when Iowa lined up in the 4-2-5, including on the play when Miami scored its first touchdown on an 11-yard pass early in the second quarter.
It still remains to be seen how effective the 4-2-5 will be without former All-Big Ten defensive back Amani Hooker playing the new cash position. Hooker skipped his senior season to enter the 2019 NFL Draft where he was selected in the fourth round by the Tennessee Titans.
Hooker also attended Saturday's game.
Redshirt freshman D.J. Johsnon has replaced Hooker at the cash position, but Johnson didn't play as much as Nick Niemann did as the third linebacker this past Saturday.
4. Junior running back Mekhi Sargent showcased his versatility on Saturday by leading Iowa in rushing with 91 yards and in receiving with 65 yards.
The Key West, Fla., native has combined to rush for 382 yards over the last four games dating back to last season, and that includes being held to a minus-3 rushing yards against Mississippi State in the Outback Bowl.
"He's more decisive, more confident out there, and he made some really big plays," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of Sargent, who played his freshman season for Iowa Western Community College before transferring to Iowa in 2018. "He's a great young guy, just works really hard and found his rhythm."
5. Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley threw three touchdown passes to three different receivers this past Saturday and he completed passes to 10 different receivers overall, including four each to Mekhi Sargent and Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
That’s what you call spreading the wealth, having quality depth and keeping everybody happy.
6. Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz performed quite a balancing act on Saturday, considering his offense ran 41 times and passed 30 times. It was almost a 50/50 split in the first half as Iowa ran 18 times and passed 16 times.
And while some of the play calls were made at the line of scrimmage, Brian Ferentz wants to be balanced on offense and he proved it again on Saturday.
7. Sophomore free safety Kaevon Merriweather made his first start for the Hawkeyes this past Saturday and his performance drew praise from Don Patterson during the Allhawkeyes/KCJJ radio show and podcast on Monday.
Patterson, who coached at Iowa throughout Hayden Fry’s 20-year reign from 1979-98, was especially impressed with Merriweather’s tackling in space.
"He made a couple big stops where it was just him and ball carrier in the open field," Patterson said. "That's not easy to do."
Merriweather led all of Iowa’s defensive backs with five tackles, and he also had one pass break-up.
8. Sophomore linebacker Djimon Colbert finished with eight tackles this past Saturday, including a team-leading six solo stops. He also had one of Iowa’s two tackles for loss.
Colbert was recruited to Iowa from Kansas City, Kan., as a defensive back but he quickly grew into a linebacker and made the position switch. He showed some of his defensive back skills by also excelling in pass coverage.
9. It’s hard to criticize a defense that holds an opponent to just 59 rushing yards and 2.4 yards-per-carry, as Iowa did to Miami of Ohio on Saturday.
But the Hawkeyes only had one sack, and surprisingly, it wasn’t preseason All-America defensive end A.J. Epenesa who recorded it.
Senior defensive end Amani Jones recorded Iowa’s only sack and it resulted in an 11-yard loss with Iowa leading 17-7 in the third quarter.
The Chicago native switched from linebacker to defensive end in the spring to give Iowa another pass rusher coming off the edge.
“It was fun, it was my first sack,” Jones said. “First one of many.”
Part of the reason for Iowa’s low sack total was because Miami freshman quarterback Brett Gabbert did a good job of avoiding pressure in the pocket and he consistently got rid of the ball quickly.
10. The bond between teammates, even former teammates, was apparent when Saturday's game ended as Amani Jones sprinted across the field to embrace Miami defensive back Manny Rugamba, who played his freshman and sophomore seasons at Iowa before transferring after the 2017 season.
Rugamba started at cornerback in Saturday's game and finished with five tackles.
11.Junior Shaun Beyer saw his first extensive action at tight end in Saturday's game and finished with three catches for 30 yards. The Cedar Rapids native has been slowed by injuries, but he sure looked healthy on Saturday.
"He's in his junior year right now," Kirk Ferentz said. "And he's had some injuries he's had to fight through, but really good to see him have that success."
Iowa needs for the tight ends to step up since former star tight ends T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant have moved on to the NFL where they both were selected in the first round of the 2019 draft by the Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos, respectively.
Hockenson won the John Mackey Award last season as the nation's top collegiate tight end, while Fant set a school record for tight ends with 11 touchdown catches as a sophomore in 2017.
12. Iowa's rushing attack produced 213 yards against Miami of Ohio, but didn't have a run that covered at least 20 yards, which is considered an explosive play. Iowa also struggled to make explosive plays with its running game last season, and that was an area of emphasis during the spring and in preseason practice.
Sargent had Iowa's longest running play on Saturday that covered 17 yards. Nate Stanley and receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette had the second longest runs of 16 yards apiece.
The lack of explosive running plays didn't cost the Hawkeyes against Miami of Ohio, but it could against better competition.
13. Former Iowa defensive back Bob Stoops was a great choice as the honorary captain to start the season as he helped to energize the Iowa players and the sellout crowd at Kinnick Stadium.
Stoops was a member of Bob Commings’ final recruiting class at Iowa in 1978 before becoming an All-Big Ten safety under Hayden Fry. Stoops was also a key player for Iowa’s 1981 Rose Bowl team and would go on to become the head coach at Oklahoma for 19 seasons, leading the Sooners to a national title in his second season in 2000.
Stoops also interviewed for the Iowa job after Fry retired in 1998, but the job ultimately went to Kirk Ferentz, who is now the longest tenured college football coach in the country, with this being his 21st season at Iowa.
14. The security at Kinnick Stadium left something to be desired this past Saturday, considering that my co-worker Tyler Devine and I both were allowed to enter the stadium without having our bags checked.
I can’t recall that ever happening since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
We were also told to enter in Gate A this past Saturday for the first time in my nearly 30 years of covering Iowa.
There was obviously some confusion and a lack of communication that needs to be corrected, so that's why I included it in this column.