Breaking down the keys to victory for Iowa and Rutgers in Saturday's 11 a.m. game at High Point Solutions Stadium:
1. Big plays big time
On average, opponents have held the football just under six minutes more per game than the Scarlet Knights which is in part to the big-play nature of the Rutgers offense.
Through three games, the Scarlet Knights have scored six touchdowns on plays of 25 yards or more including five on plays from scrimmage.
There has been week-to-week growth in the power-spread attack coach Chris Ash and offensive coordinator Drew Mehringer are implementing this season, but the big plays have been a common thread in the two games since a season-opening loss at Washington.
Janarion Grant grabs most of the attention with his skills as a kick and punt returner as well as his abilities in the backfield. He accounts for 187.3 all-purpose yards per game -- fifth nationally and 14 yards better than the next closest player in the Big Ten, Curtis Samuel of Ohio State.
Grant's work as a receiver has been mostly on shorter routes so far, but his quickness and speed is complemented by the skill of Jawuan Harris and Andre Patton. Harris, who led the Big Ten in stolen bases in baseball last spring, has averaged 28 yards per catch on five receptions and joins Patton, who averages 15 yards on his five catches, with two touchdown receptions apiece.
2. Establish the run.
It's taken some time, but the Scarlet Knights' run game is growing.
An offensive line coached by former Hawkeye assistant A.J. Blazek includes three fifth-year seniors, a junior and a sophomore in its starting five.
The return of a healthy Robert Martin has helped as well. He missed time during preseason camp, but rushed for a career-high 169 yards last week including an 80-yard touchdown run that helped Rutgers rally past New Mexico.
Overall, the Scarlet Knights are third in rushing in the Big Ten behind only Ohio State and Maryland at 229.3 yards per game.
When at its best, the power spread includes a strong running threat at quarterback. Rutgers lacks that at this point, with junior Chris Laviano regarded as more of a pro-style quarterback than a dual threat.
Laviano, whose consistency has been an issue within games, has gained 21 yards on 17 carries. He is one of five players who have taken snaps this season for the Knights.
3. Defend the run.
Rutgers has three fifth-year seniors on its defensive front as well, with highly-recruited Julian Pinnix-Odrick and Quanzell Lambert at the end spots and Darius Hamilton at a tackle position providing experience to build on.
In a 4-3 alignment, the Scarlet Knights are equally inexperienced at linebacker. Fifth-year senior Greg Jones and sophomores Trevor Morris and Deonte Roberts entered the season with one career start between the three of them.
That has created some opportunities for opponents to move the ball on the ground. Rutgers is 13th in the Big Ten in defending the run, ahead of only Purdue, and is surrendering 178 yards per game on the ground.
That is only slightly more than the 174.3 yards per game Iowa has allowed during in its early-season issues defending the run.
4. Turn up the heat.
The Scarlet Knights have had some success in getting to opposing quarterbacks, recording nine sacks in three games. That total, which matches the work of the Hawkeye defense, has been topped by only three Big Ten defenses.
Juilian Pinnix-Odrick leads Rutgers with 3.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for a loss. Kiy Hester has recorded three tackles for a loss among the 23 the team has recorded through three games.
Iowa has struggled with protection of quarterback C.J. Beathard, giving up six sacks, while allowing 13 total tackles behind the line of scrimmage through three games.
1. Establish the run.
That never happened a week ago and while North Dakota State's defensive line had something to do with it, Iowa's inability to create success in rushing the football led to a long afternoon at Kinnick Stadium.
The Hawkeyes finished with 34 yards on the ground in that game, Iowa's lowest rushing total since gaining 23 yards on 16 carries in a 26-14 loss to Michigan State in 2013.
The return of starting guard Sean Welsh, regarded as an all-Big Ten caliber lineman, and center James Daniels from injuries should help LeShun Daniels and New Jersey native Akrum Wadley create a more effective rushing attack this week.
Iowa has averaged 148 yards per game on the ground, ahead of only Penn State (111.7) and Northwestern (98.3) so far this season among Big Ten teams.
Derrick Mitchell, used primarily as Iowa's third-down back, is not expected to make the trip this week because of a leg injury which also kept him out of the North Dakota State game.
2. Regain an edge in the air.
Iowa's struggles in rushing ball complicated things in the passing game as well last week.
Dropped passes were an issue, particularly during a tone-setting first half, and that contributed the difficulties that C.J. Beathard had from start to finish in his first regular-season loss in 15 games as the Hawkeyes' starting quarterback.
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Only twice during his starting career at Iowa has he completed fewer than the 11 passes he connected on a week ago as part of an 11-of-22 day against North Dakota State. That included the Hawkeyes' first turnover of the season, a 21-yard interception returned for a touchdown by the Bison's MJ Stumpf.
Beathard should find friendly skies against Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights' secondary is inexperienced and has given up some yards through the air.
Rutgers is allowing 187 passing yards per game, middle of the pack in the Big Ten, but ranks 12th in the league in pass defense efficiency. The Scarlet Knights have recorded one interception in each of their first three games, including one by Anthony Cioffi in a season-opening loss at Washington which gives him a career total of seven.
3. Be special on special teams.
Ron Coluzzi's leg may among the most valuable cargo on the plane as Iowa prepares for its first road game of the season.
The graduate transfer has shown the ability to negate the abilities of one of the Big Ten's top return threats, Janarion Grant, the conference leader with an average of 32.5 yards on kick returns and in addition to averaging 16 yards on punt returns.
In his first three games for Iowa, Coluzzi has delivered a league-leading 15 touchbacks on 19 kickoffs. Additionally, he has averaged 43.9 yards on 13 punts this season and no yards were gained on one returnable punt.
Those abilities have the potential to equalize things in those segments of the game. After watching Maryland's equally-talented Will Likely return a kickoff 100 yards last season at Kinnick Stadium, don't expect the Hawkeyes to take many chances in testing Grant's ability.
3. Be assignment sound.
The Hawkeyes seemed a step slow last week and playing with a better tempo is among the objectives for Iowa on both offense and defense this week.
Linebackers Ben Niemann, Josey Jewell and Bo Bower shared the Hawkeyes' team lead with 11 tackles apiece last week. That's not necessarily a good thing and is one of the reasons North Dakota State was able to pile up 239 rushing yards, the most allowed by Iowa since Tennessee ran for 283 yards against the Hawkeyes in the TaxSlayer Bowl at the end of the 2014 season.
Iowa defenders spent time this week talking about the need to be quicker to close things off and shut gaps down. That is a needed start to improving a rushing defense that is giving up174.3 yards per game on the ground.
4. Break out the mops.
A clean-up operation has been underway in Iowa City this week.
The Hawkeyes played one of their more sloppy overall games in several years last weekend, dealing with issues on both sides of the ball. Iowa's ability to clean things up - from dropped passes and porous tackle attempts - will be important.
Improved communication and the ability of that to create a more cohesive approach on both offense and defense have been among areas of focus on the practice field this week.
Iowa's ability to effectively put that work to use will have a lot to say in determining if the Hawkeyes can win their Big Ten opener for the seventh time in eight years.