No. 14 Iowa not taking Middle Tennessee lightly

Field Level Media

September 25, 2019 at 12:03 am.

Iowa is looking for its fifth 4-0 start during coach Kirk Ferentz’s 21-season tenure when it hosts Middle Tennessee on Saturday.

The No. 14 Hawkeyes are mindful of not experiencing a lackluster showing in the non-conference tilt against the Blue Raiders. Both teams had a bye last weekend.

“We are trying like heck not to,” Ferentz said in response to a possible slip-up. “It’s still that team and that week, everybody has to do their job, and the key thing — and this was not like a first game exactly — but it’s a little bit like a first game when you take a break. The danger of breaks is,’OK, what’s it going to be like when we come off the break?’ ”

It was mostly good prior to the bye, beginning with wins over Miami (Ohio) and Big Ten foe Rutgers. But two Saturdays ago, nothing was easy as the Hawkeyes edged Iowa State 18-17 while being outgained 418-313.

Iowa aims to be refreshed against the Blue Raiders (1-2), who are playing their third Power 5 school.

Middle Tennessee lost 40-21 to Michigan of the Big Ten in its opener and was beaten 41-18 by Duke of the ACC on Sept. 14 prior to its break.

Playing a second Big Ten team in the first month of the season certainly makes for tough treading for a program that resides in Conference USA.

“We’ve got a great challenge ahead of us, and a great opportunity ahead of us, one that we’re looking forward to,” Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill said in a press conference. “When you play on the road — when you play in away games — you’ve got to bring your toughness. We’ve got to be a level ahead of their toughness, because they’re a tough, physical football team.”

Middle Tennessee is focused on keeping Iowa senior quarterback Nate Stanley in check.

Stanley has passed for 689 yards and six touchdowns without throwing an interception. He ranks third in Iowa history with 58 touchdown passes and has thrown three or more scoring passes 10 times in his career, second in school history behind Chuck Long (11), the 1985 Heisman Trophy runner-up behind Bo Jackson.

“Coach (Stockstill) said we’ll be aggressive, so we’ll try and blitz to get some pressure from the outside,” Blue Raiders senior safety Jovante Moffatt said in a press conference of the plan against Stanley. “They have a lot bigger guys on their offensive line, so we’ve got to get those guys moving laterally.”

Junior safety Reed Blankenship has been the top performer on the Middle Tennessee defense and leads the squad with 25 tackles and two interceptions.

Multi-purpose sophomore quarterback Asher O’Hara has passed for 785 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions, while adding a team-high 202 yards and one score on the ground.

O’Hara will look to solve an Iowa defense that is allowing just 10.3 points and 262.7 yards per game.

Senior cornerback Michael Ojemudia has two interceptions, and the Hawkeyes have three overall. Last season, they tied for second nationally with 20.

Junior defensive end A.J. Epenesa has just one sack after producing a Big Ten-best 10.5 last season. The Hawkeyes hope to get him untracked against the Blue Raiders.

Ferentz isn’t expecting an easy time as his team looks to remain among the ranks of the unbeaten.

“The bottom line is we have to get ready to go,” Ferentz said. “We expect (Middle Tennessee) to be ready, no doubt about that, and the challenge for us is to be ready and play a good football game.”