No. 14 Iowa hosts MTSU, seeking 1st 4-0 start since ’15

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              Iowa linebacker Amani Jones (52) celebrates after an NCAA college football game against Iowa State, Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa won 18-17. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — With a win over Middle Tennessee State on Saturday, No. 14 Iowa will move to 4-0 for the fifth time in coach Kirk Ferentz’s 21 seasons in charge.

History shows that the Hawkeyes could be in for a big season if that’s the case.

Iowa won at least 10 games after starting 4-0 in 2003, 2009 and 2015, the last of which ended with an unbeaten regular season. The Hawkeyes (1-0 Big Ten) have looked like the kind of team that can go on such a run again this fall, thanks to a defense that’s allowing just 10.3 points per game and a quarterback, senior Nate Stanley, who has yet to throw an interception this season.

Injuries, especially in the secondary, could be a reason for caution.

“We have got a lot of guys out. It’s concerning every week. It was extremely concerning the last time we played,” Ferentz said. “I looked over (on Tuesday), half our two-deep in the secondary is in street clothes watching practice.”

Banged up or not, Iowa is a 24-point favorite over a team that has beaten five Power Five opponents since 2008.

SCOUTING THE BLUE RAIDERS

Quarterback Asher O’Hara has been a pleasant surprise for Middle Tennessee. The first-year starter is averaging 267 yards passing a game, with eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. O’Hara has also been the Blue Raiders‘ top rushing threat with 202 yards.

“When quarterbacks break contain, bad things tend to happen. He’s got that ability,” Ferentz said of O’Hara. A “big part of our success will be trying to keep him in a position maybe where, we’ve got him contained a little bit knowing he’s going to get his completions.”

IOWA’S OFFENSE

Expect Iowa to try to push Middle Tennessee with its powerful line and running backs Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young, who have combined for 328 yards and 5.3 yards per carry.

“They’re going to want to establish the run . and their defense is physical, big up front and talented on the back end,” MTSU coach Rick Stockstill said.

THE DEFENSES

The Hawkeyes are seventh nationally in scoring defense and 12th in yards allowed at just 262.7 per game. Middle Tennessee allowed 40 to Michigan and 41 to Duke. Iowa also allowed just five first downs in its Big Ten opener, a 30-0 blowout of Rutgers. But the Hawkeyes are relying on backups D.J. Johnson (cornerback) and Jack Koerner (free safety) because of injuries.

EXTRA POINTS

Middle Tennessee is 33-15 in league play since joining Conference USA. …Iowa has intercepted a national-high 44 passes since the start of 2017. Boston College is second with 43. …MTSU hasn’t had a losing season since 2011. …The Hawkeyes have scored in all 12 quarters this season. …Middle Tennessee is 0-9 against ranked teams under Stockstill, now in his 14th season. …Iowa last failed to win at least 10 games after a 4-0 start in 2006. The Hawkeyes stuck with injured quarterback Drew Tate almost all season and finished 6-7.

HE SAID IT

“The bottom line is, if you’re not at your best week in and week out, you just open yourself up to being in a world of trouble. That’s certainly not anywhere we want to find ourselves.” — Ferentz.