Colorado State Football: First Look at the Iowa Hawkeyes
The Rams will close out non-conference play this fall with a trip to Iowa. Here’s our early preview of what to know about Hawkeyes football.
The Rams will battle a Big Ten contender.
Colorado State Football: First Looks at Non-Conference Opponents
The Colorado State Rams will close out its non-conference schedule with a road date against the Iowa Hawkeyes on September 25 and you can bet that one will be a doozy.
While no one will mistake Iowa with Ohio State in the Big Ten, the Rams figure to have their hands full against a team that appears to be a safe bet to enter the 2021 season ranked, making this game one of the toughest draws for anyone in the Mountain West.
Location: Iowa City, Iowa
Mascot: Herky the Hawk
Conference: Big Ten
2020 Record: 6-2 (6-2 Big Ten)
Head Coach: Kirk Ferentz (22nd year; 168-106 at Iowa, 180-127 overall). At this point, Iowa might be on cruise control: Since Ferentz arrived in 1999, the Hawkeyes have won at a .613 clip; in the last five years, that winning percentage jumps to .683, the 16th-best in the FBS.
Last year was no different, though Iowa was snake-bit early with a pair of losses to Purdue and Northwestern which came by a combined five points. In ripping off six straight wins to close the year, though, the Hawkeyes outscored their conference foes by a 35.6-to-13.8 margin. Much to Colorado State’s chagrin, they return most of the key contributors that made the winning streak happen and should be a strong contender for a berth in the Rose Bowl once more.
C Tyler Linderbaum
If you’re looking for an entry point into the conversation regarding the best center in the country, start with Linderbaum. In 2020, he was Pro Football Focus’s top-graded player among all interior linemen in 2020, a Rimington Trophy finalist, a second-team All-American, a first-team all-Big Ten Selection last winter, and one of ten Big Ten players to be named as a preseason conference standout just last week.
As strong as Colorado State looks up front, Linderbaum should be their toughest assignment of the season.
You guys remember that time Tyler Linderbaum almost kept up with Tyler Goodson for 80 yards?
I sure do. pic.twitter.com/QhzVECMyWz
— Ray Ortega (@RayJOrtega) July 17, 2021
TE Sam LaPorta
Could Trey McBride actually meet his match in this game? This is a program, after all, that developed both George Kittle and T.J. Hockenson, but LaPorta actually did something neither of them could in catching more passes than anyone else on the roster last fall. Add in that he’s also a quality run-blocker, and Rams fans could find plenty to appreciate in their own star’s counterpart.
RB Tyler Goodson
Goodson stepped into the starting role full-time last season and immediately became exactly the kind of physical runner you’d expect from a team like the Hawkeyes. In eight games, he ran for 762 yards and seven touchdowns, earning a spot on the all-conference first team offense.
DE Zack VanValkenburg
Iowa had a few players in their front seven who could wreak some havoc last season, but VanValkenburg, who compiled 8.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks, is the big name back for 2021 as a super senior. With few other proven commodities along the defensive line, he’ll be counted upon to bring even more to the table.
QB Spencer Petras
The ideal Iowa quarterback won’t beat himself with mistakes and, in that regard, Petras was fine in his first full year as a starter. There are a few ways in which he can improve, of course — he lost effectiveness down-by-down, from the first to the second half of games, and on plays which took longer to develop — but Colorado State can look forward to squaring off with someone who knows how to manage a game and won’t put the Hawkeyes in less-than-ideal situations.
The Hawkeyes have rarely possessed an elite offense and Ferentz’s propensity to punt on the opponent’s side of the field is a running gag on college football Twitter at this point, but give them marks for consistency: Over the past three seasons, Iowa has averaged almost exactly 5.4 yards per play and, by offensive SP+, ranked between 45th and 54th.
A top-50 offense is something against which Colorado State should be able to manage, especially if Iowa cant find satisfactory solutions to some of its fall camp concerns. Goodson is a keeper at running back, for instance, but identifying someone else who can assume some of the workload like Gavin or Leshon Williams, both of whom are redshirt freshmen, can make his life easier.
They’ll also need to get more production from their pass catchers, as well. LaPorta and Luke Lachey make for a pair of imposing tight ends, though, and Nico Ragaini and Tyrone Tracy are still around to replace Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Brandon Smith. Both Ragaini and Tracy had a strong year in 2019, so they can’t be overlooked.
If there’s one area that looks most promising for the Rams defense to make hay, it’s in beating a reloaded offensive line. Linderbaum is a monster in the middle, but Iowa has to replace three starters. Most of the new faces, like sophomore tackle Jack Plumb and senior guard Kyler Schott, have starting experience but will be expected to maintain an above-average standard
The Iowa offense is modest overall, but the defense is another story entirely. When ESPN’s Bill Connelly released his initial preseason SP+ rankings back in February, the Hawkeyes ranked number one overall on this side of the ball.
That’s because the Hawkeyes have at least one or two athletes at every level who are capable of putting together an all-Big Ten campaign. On the defensive line, VanValkenburg is the big name but the unit is stocked with promising players who got plenty of action in 2020. John Waggoner, Yahya Black, and Noah Shannon won’t have it easy replacing NFL Draft picks Daviyon Nixon and Chauncey Golston, though.
The secondary also has a pair of players in free safety Jack Koerner (45 tackles, 2 TFLs, 3 INTs) and cornerback Riley Moss (one of the country’s top zone defenders, per PFF) who will anchor what should be a very stingy pass defense. In other words, CSU will have to work at moving the ball consistently.
The Hawkeyes will never dazzle you on either side of the ball, but the Rams should get an up-close look at the kind of team that they aspire to be themselves. Count on the Rams to make some stops on defense, but Iowa should wear them down and pull away late for a comfortable, if not exciting, victory.
Iowa 38, Colorado State 13