IOWA CITY — Rutgers may have quarterback questions as it prepares to host Iowa, but the Hawkeyes have a quick answer when it comes to defending the Scarlet Knights.
Iowa defenders know what to expect from Rutgers as both teams open Big Ten football play Saturday with a 6:10 p.m. game at SHI Stadium.
"They’re going to try to run the ball down our throats," Hawkeye linebacker Jack Campbell said.
Defensive tackle Logan Lee sees the same thing.
"That’s how they’re built. They want to run the football," Lee said, adding, "And, they’re pretty good at doing that."
Starting three different quarterbacks during a 3-0 start to the season and possibly having a fourth take snaps against the Hawkeyes, the Scarlet Knights are 13th in the Big Ten in total offense, just one spot in front of Iowa.
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However, Rutgers is third in the conference in rushing.
The Scarlet Knights have averaged 227.3 yards per game on the ground and 4.98 yards per carry, just over two yards better than what the Hawkeyes averaged whenever they have attempted to run the football.
Kyle Monangai, a 5-foot-9, 205-pound sophomore, has made the first three starts of his collegiate career in Rutgers’ season-opening wins over Boston College, Wagner and Temple, but the Scarlet Knights will spread the ball around.
Al-Shadee Salaam leads a collection of four backs who average just over 40 rushing yards per game. The 5-10, 190-pound sophomore averages a team-leading 45.7 rushing yards per game.
That’s complemented by the 44 yards averaged by Monangai and the averages of 41 and 40.3 yards per game delivered by receiver Rashad Rochelle and Johnny Langan, the latter a tight end who will take snaps in a wildcat look that is part of the Scarlet Knights’ offense.
All work behind a rebuilt offensive front that coach Greg Schiano, three seasons into his second stint on the Rutgers sidelines, constructed with personnel found in the transfer portal.
Mike Ciaffoni from Colorado State, J.D. DiRenzo from Sacred Heart, Curtis Dunlap Jr. from Minnesota and Willie Tyler III from Louisiana-Monroe all factor into the Scarlet Knights’ rotation on the offensive line.
“They clearly had a plan and they’ve brought some new bodies in on the offense up front," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They’re veteran up there. They have big guys and they’re good."
Lee sees dealing with that as the starting point for Iowa’s defensive work in its first road test of the season.
“The biggest thing is just being able to control the line of scrimmage and that starts up front and controlling first and second down, trying to put them in a position where they have to throw the ball," Lee said. "That's what we're looking for."
The Hawkeyes accomplished that objective last weekend against Nevada, limiting the Wolf Pack to an average of 2.1 yards on its first-down snaps.
“A lot of it comes down to being able to anticipate what plays we are going to see based on the looks they are giving us," Lee said. “When you can limit an opponent on first and second down and put them in third and long, put them in a spot where they have to pass, it really helps."
Campbell said that begins with focus.
Beyond anticipating the run, the senior linebacker said the Hawkeyes need to be cognizant of the Scarlet Knights’ ability to throw the ball or hit the perimeter in the run game.
“If we’re not ready, they’re going to try to get the ball outside or down the field. Like any good offense, they’re just going to keep us on our toes," Campbell said. “It’s going to be a challenge. We have to go there and focus all the time."
In addition to preparing for multiple ballcarriers, Iowa players have multiple quarterbacks to prepare for against Rutgers.
A different player has taken the first snap in each of Rutgers’ first three games and it is possible that a fourth will open under center against the Hawkeyes.
Noah Vedral, a sixth-year senior from Wahoo, Neb., was expected to add to his collection of 20 starts for the Scarlet Knights this season but has missed the first three games because of injury.
Vedral began his college career at Central Florida in 2017 and followed Scott Frost to Nebraska one year later before transferring to Rutgers in 2020.
He is listed at the top of the Scarlet Knights’ depth chart this week but Schiano said his availability will be a game-time decision.
That is the same situation Gavin Wimsatt, the starter in Rutgers’ win over Wagner, finds himself in while last week’s starter, Evan Simon is available if Vedral or Wimatt are unable to play.
“It’s kind of unsettling, you have two quarterbacks that are game-time decisions. Thank goodness Evan is healthy," Schiano said. “We’ll just prepare for whoever we have that the doctors tell us are going to be able to play."
Ferentz said the situation adds to Iowa’s defensive challenge.
“You’re never quite sure what you’re going to get and it sounds like they’re not sure either," Ferentz said. “I guess the good news is that we’ve seen all three quarterbacks on film so we’ve got the ability to at least know what to expect a little bit. We’ll just have to try to be ready and adjust as we go."
Lee said that includes preparing a bit for each.
“We’re preparing that way, preparing to play each of them, but we do know they want to run the ball," Lee said. “They have that identity and that gives us a starting point."