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Getting You Set: Iowa vs Utah State, Preview and Prediction

Iowa hosts Utah State on Saturday as the 2023 season is set to kickoff, get set for the game with a matchup preview and prediction.

It feels as though Hawkeye fans have been waiting for this day since December 1st, 2022. Cade McNamara announced his commitment to play quarterback at Iowa that day and from then on, the momentum began to build. The snowball effect led to the Hawkeyes adding more offensive weapons, building strength on the offensive line, and even landing an all-conference linebacker as the transfer portal offseason progressed. 

We started to see glimpses of what this offense could become at the Spring game, through the Summer, and into Fall camp. Now, the Iowa depth chart ahead of its week one matchup against Utah State lists a former Big Ten Champion as the starting quarterback, two All-American-hopeful tight ends, and a full list of scholarship wide receivers. On Saturday, the Hawkeyes take the field inside Kinnick Stadium to a sold-out crowd with expectations to compete for the Big Ten West Division in its final year of existence. 

The Opponent

Utah State comes to Iowa City as the third Mountain West team to visit Kinnick Stadium in the last three years. It’s an Aggies group led by third-year head coach Blake Anderson, who has a 17-10 overall record in Logan, Utah. Offensively, Utah State returns just four starters including quarterback Cooper Legas. As a sophomore, Legas completed his first pass for a touchdown in a bowl victory over Oregon State in 2021. He then stepped in for an injured starter last season, making eight starts in 2022. Legas’ stat line included 11 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, and 1,500 passing yards. It’s Legas’ team from the jump this season, but his opening matchup against Phil Parker’s defense is going to be a real challenge. 

The Aggie offense will be breaking in some first-time starters in Iowa City. That includes true sophomore running back Robert Briggs. He caught a lot of attention as a true freshman in Logan, earning him the second-string role in the backfield last season. Briggs tallied 353 yards in 10 games played, averaging just under five yards per touch. Terrell Vaughn returns the best-receiving numbers from last year, hauling in five touchdowns for north of 600 yards. The real question on this team will be the offensive line. It’s a group we’ll get to shortly, but it could be an area of concern for the Aggies in a tough road environment.

Aggie Defense

Defensively, Utah State will be solid at interior defensive line. The Aggies have second-team all-conference defensive tackle Hale Motu’apuaka who registered five sacks and eight tackles for loss last season. Seni Tuiaki is also back after missing the final nine games of 2022 due to injury. In just four games, Tuiaki had 15 tackles and two-and-a-half tackles for loss coming off the bench. The Aggies lose four defensive ends from their roster this season. Getting pressure on the edge will come from a redshirt freshman and a few junior college transfers. 

The Utah State defense was slated to have eight starters return, but three of them hit the transfer portal after Spring practice. Two of the three came from the secondary. That leaves Michael Anyanwu and Ike Larsen as the group’s only returning starters. Anyanwu led the team with 11 pass breakups last year and also hauled in an interception. Larsen led the Aggies with four interceptions, including one against Alabama. He also blocked three kicks last year. The secondary replaced their losses by adding a couple of Power Five transfers to help bolster the depth. 

Utah State’s Biggest Mismatch Against Iowa

The Utah State offensive line is where there will be a mismatch against Iowa on Saturday. The Aggies’ group up front returns just three players with starting experience, and one of last year’s starters. The five listed on this week’s depth chart combine for 32 career starts and 76 total games played. Their starters include redshirt freshman Tavo Motu’apuaka who has no games played at right guard. His backup is also a redshirt freshman with no experience. The left tackle is Arizona State transfer Ralph Frias. He has excellent size at 6’-6” and 340 pounds, but has just 21 total snaps in three seasons of college football. The Aggie guards and tackles all stand at 6’-5” and above, so it will not be a size disadvantage. Rather, the experience drop-off from this Utah State offensive line to Iowa’s side of the ball is the most significant difference.

That’s because Iowa is trotting out a defensive front whose right defensive end and tackle combine for 40 starts between the two of them. Those two are Joe Evans and Logan Lee, respectively. The other two starters are Yahya Black at left defensive tackle, and Deonte Craig at left end. Neither Black nor Craig has registered a start at Iowa, but they are both juniors who combine for 50 games played. In total, Iowa’s starting defensive front has played in 121 games. That’s without a suspended senior defensive tackle in Noah Shannon. It also doesn’t include the depth of the group that could realistically rotate in eight to 10 players throughout a game. 

The Aggies might be able to rely on their size to slow down the Hawkeye front at first. But it won’t be sustainable throughout the game. Iowa’s talent and ability to rotate players up front will likely wear down the Aggies offensive line all afternoon. It would not be surprising to see Iowa dictate the course of this contest by getting consistent pressure on the line of scrimmage. 

Iowa vs Utah State Preview

The last time Iowa played Utah State was in week four of the 2002 season. The Hawkeyes are 11-1-1 against current Mountain West teams, with their only loss being against Hawaii in 1988. The spread is floating around 25 points in favor of Iowa. Coincidentally, that’s the exact contractual number needed out of this offense for Brian Ferentz to retain his job at the end of the year. If averaging 25 points is the goal, Iowa will likely need to score more than 25 points in this game, because there are some tough, potentially low-scoring, conference games ahead. 

Year two of our power rankings model makes Iowa a 31.6-point favorite in this game. The Hawkeyes have not won a game by more than 27 points since October of 2021 against Maryland. 

Utah State will have a better defense than last season. They allowed an average of 400 yards per game and 31.2 points per contest. But if Iowa has expectations to win the West and compete for a Big Ten title with this revamped offense, scoring at least 30 points against a bottom-third Mountain West program should be attainable. 


Iowa – 38

Utah State – 10



Photo courtesy: Nirmalendu Majumdar/Ames Tribune / USA TODAY NETWORK


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