Four things the football teams from Wyoming and Iowa can do to position themselves for victory in Saturday's 11 a.m. game at Kinnick Stadium:
1. Get big plays from its big playmaker
The Cowboys' Josh Allen is expected to be among the first quarterbacks taken in the 2018 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-5, 233-pound senior has a strong arm, quick feet and the ability to make something out of nothing. Right at 50 percent of his 28 touchdown passes while throwing for 3,203 yards last season came as he scrambled. Wyoming is working to replace its top three receivers from 2016, among the reasons Allen's performance will have a stake in the outcome of the season opener. He'll test a Hawkeye secondary that will be inexperienced beyond Miles Taylor at strong safety. Jake Gervase at free safety and Michael Ojemudia at right corner are making their first career starts, while Josh Jackson at left corner is making his second start.
2. Test Nate Stanley
Wyoming's defense is an active one, something that provide a test or two for Nate Stanley in his first start at quarterback for the Hawkeyes. Much like Wyoming, the Hawkeyes will be breaking in a largely new group of receivers this season. They'll be tested by a defense which uses a 4-3 Tampa 2 as its base, but the Cowboys will use some Cover 1 and Cover 3 and have shown blitzing tendencies in the past on passing downs.
3. Get something on the ground
Wyoming's running game is a work in progress. The accuracy of Josh Allen's arm helped Brian Hill pile up 1,860 yards on 349 carries last season. No back in the Football Bowl Subdivision touched the ball more often. He's taken that skill to the NFL, making an early exit prior to being chosen in the fifth round by Atlanta. Sophomore Milo Hall is his replacement but Wyoming will likely mix and match backs behind a line that returns four starters. Junior Nico Evans and sophomore Kellen Overstreet will likely get a few carries as well.
4. Hang around
The longer the Cowboys can hang around, the greater the chance they have of making things interesting in the fourth quarter at Kinnick. Coach Craig Bohl's previous team, North Dakota State, did that last season and walked a way with a last-second victory over the Hawkeyes. Wyoming trailed 24-17 at Nebraska after three quarters a year ago before the Cornhuskers piled up 28 unanswered points in the fourth quarter. This game is a chance for the Cowboys to make a statement.
1. Establish the run
With four returning starters on the offensive line and a pair of experienced seniors at running back in Akrum Wadley and grad transfer James Butler, the easiest way for Iowa to help ease Nate Stanley into his role under center is to work the ground game. Beyond taking some of the pressure off of Stanley and a young group of receivers, it will put some pressure on a Wyoming defense which surrendered 5.3 yards per carry a year ago. Iowa has the potential to wear that defense down, a starting point at the start of the season.
2. Create a one-dimensional opponent
Iowa's defensive objectives begin with discipline and execution. The Hawkeyes' ability to contain Josh Allen and limit his freelancing abilities will only play into Iowa's favor. The Hawkeyes will need to be gap sound and find consistent play from the core of its defense at the linebacker positions, where seniors Josey Jewell, Ben Niemann and Bo Bower will complement a front four which has gained praise from coordinator Phil Parker for its work in fall camp. Iowa has some interesting pieces of front, where senior Nathan Bazata, junior Parker Hesse and sophomores Anthony Nelson and Cedrick Lattimore are expected to start.
3. Be special on special teams
There are a lot of new and moving pieces on Iowa's special teams. Miguel Recinos has moved ahead of returning starter Keith Duncan at placekicker, Colten Rastetter will step in at punter and on the flip side, Iowa has new return men in Matt VandeBerg and Josh Jackson on punts and Akrum Wadley on kicks. Recinos hit 1-of-3 field goal tries last season. VandeBerg is the only experienced return man, averaging 6.8 yards while returning punts three years ago before Desmond King took over. Production from any of those specialists will only benefit the Hawkeyes.
4. Find the mismatches
While Wyoming breaks in a new defensive coordinator, Brian Ferentz will work his first game as Iowa's offensive coordinator and play caller. His ability to create some mismatches can make a difference for the Hawkeyes. While Iowa is young at the receiver positions, it does have pass-catching options at both the running back and tight end spots. The abilities of 6-foot-5, 232-pound Noah Fant and 6-5, 243-pound redshirt freshman T.J. Hockenson, expected to make his first start at tight end, have the potential to lead to some defensive problems for the Cowboys. Iowa's ability to make the most of that, be it at tight end or with the pass-catching skill of running backs Akrum Wadley and James Butler, can make a deciding difference.