Hawkeyes host Cowboys’ gunslinger

T-R GRAPHIC

T-R GRAPHIC

IOWA CITY — Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen might end up being the first overall pick in the 2018 NFL draft. A strong performance against one of his toughest opponents could help solidify his draft status.

Allen and the Cowboys (8-6 in 2016) travel to face Iowa on Saturday, their only road game against a Power Five opponent (though they do get Oregon at home Sept. 16).

The Hawkeyes aren’t just any Big Ten defense, either. They bring back a host of starters from last year’s unit, which ranked 13th nationally in scoring defense (18.8 points allowed per game) and held Michigan and Nebraska to just 23 combined points in home wins to close out 2016.

But the 6-foot-5 Allen is a darling of the mock drafts for a reason, and Iowa will be without suspended cornerback Manny Rugamba.

“He can throw the ball down the middle, he can throw it outside really well, he can pull it down and run,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said of Allen. “If you’re not on top of your game with the rush … you’re going to get hurt. And then if you’re not covering guys tightly, you’re going to get hurt there, too.”

The Hawkeyes will have a brand new face at quarterback, as Ferentz named sophomore Nate Stanley as his starter on Monday.

Here are some things to consider as the Cowboys and Hawkeyes prepare to kick off 2017:

BUTLER AND WADLEY

Iowa is the only team in the country with two 1,000-yard rushers from 2016 back for this season — although only one of them was with the Hawkeyes last season. James Butler, who ran for over 1,300 yards in 2016 for Nevada , joined Iowa as a graduate transfer. He, fellow senior Akrum Wadley and a deep and experienced offensive line should help give the Hawkeyes one of the nation’s better running attacks. The hope is that Wadley and Butler can help Stanley ease into his new role. “It would certainly help us if we can do that. But then every opponent we play knows that, too,” Ferentz said.

THE POKES

The Cowboys were just 101st nationally in scoring defense in 2016 after allowing 34.1 points a game. But eight starters return on that side of the ball, led by junior strong safety Andrew Wingard. He was voted the Mountain West’s preseason defensive player of the year.

“We really believe we’ll be much improved on defense,” Wyoming coach Craig Bohl said.

IOWA D

Rugamba, whose late interception helped Iowa upset Michigan last fall, is expected to play a key role at some point for the Hawkeyes after they lost Desmond King and Greg Mabin to the NFL. Sophomore Michael Ojemudia will start at cornerback with Rugamba out, along with junior corner Josh Jackson and safeties Jake Gervase and Miles Taylor.

SHADES OF BIG BEN?

Ferentz has seen a lot of things in his 18-plus years at Iowa, including a situation similar to Saturday’s matchup with Allen. In 2003, Iowa opened at home against Miami (Ohio) and talented young quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Hawkeyes got the better of the future Super Bowl champion, picking Roethlisberger off four times in a 21-3 win.

HE SAID IT

“I’m a dumb line coach, but I look at the quarterback and say ‘Geez, that guy is pretty good,’ and it was kind of the same way with Roethlisberger. That in itself gets your attention. But as I said earlier, they’re much more than one player.” — Ferentz on Wyoming.