No. 20 Iowa hosts Rutgers in its earliest Big Ten game ever

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              Iowa wide receiver Brandon Smith (12) celebrates with teammates after catching a touchdown pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Miami of Ohio, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa’s matchup against Rutgers on Saturday will be the earliest Big Ten game the Hawkeyes have ever played and coach Kirk Ferentz isn’t exactly thrilled about it.

But if Iowa (1-0) can play up to its capabilities for the second week in a row, facing the Scarlet Knights (1-0) could be a valuable tune-up.

The 20th-ranked Hawkeyes held Miami (Ohio) to 245 yards of offense, ran for 5.2 yards per carry and punted just once in a 38-14 win last weekend.

“To me, the month of September especially is just about really focusing on trying to improve and pull things together, tie up the loose ends,” Ferentz said of the early conference game. “But nobody asks for my opinion. I’m not waiting for them (to) either.”

Rutgers coach Chris Ash is in the early stages of a crucial fourth season in charge, having won just eight of his first 37 games with the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers appeared to be in trouble again when UMass jumped ahead 21-7 last week, but the Scarlet Knights closed the game on a 41-0 run.

The Hawkeyes won’t be so easy to brush aside.

Rutgers is 0-15 against ranked Big Ten opponents since joining the league, and it finished 2018 on an 11-game losing streak. Still, Ash was pleased with his team’s resilience after falling into a 14-point hole.

“We found out a lot about our team,” Ash said. “To be able to handle some adversity the way we did told us a lot about our football team.”

STANLEY’S TIME

Iowa senior quarterback Nate Stanley had a sterling debut, completing 21 of 30 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns — to three different receivers — with zero interceptions. Stanley, in his third season as the starter, has 55 career TD passes against just 16 picks.

“Nate works at it so hard, he’s extremely conscientious that way, and he’s got good mental toughness,” Ferentz said. “Hopefully this is his most productive and enjoyable season of his career.”

THE CARTER III

Texas Tech transfer McLane Carter gave Rutgers an enormous boost behind center by throwing for 340 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Minutemen. But he also threw three picks.

“Biggest thing coming out of Friday night offensively is just the three interceptions. We haven’t had it. We have to eliminate it,” Ash said.

Rutgers’ quarterbacks were abysmal in 2018, ranking last nationally with a passer rating of 78.8 and with just five TD throws against 22 interceptions.

IOWA’S DEFENSE

Iowa, which ranked 11th in the country allowing just 17.8 points per game a year ago, picked up right where it left off. Despite communication issues that helped lead to a pair of TDs, eight of Miami’s 10 drives ended with either a punt or an interception last week.

PACHECO-MATE

Rutgers sophomore Isaih Pacheco ran for 156 yards and four touchdowns against UMass, becoming the only player nationally to score from the ground four times in the opener. Pacheco ranked second on the Scarlet Knights in 2018 with 910 all-purpose yards.

HE SAID IT

“It was unreal. It’s been a dream of mine to play college football here.” — Iowa sophomore walk-on guard Kyler Schott, who has unexpectedly blossomed into a starter after receiving zero NCAA offers coming out of high school.