Saturday, October 19, 2013

Week 8 Game Day: Iowa at Ohio State for a Buckeyes Homecoming

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Following the bye week on the schedule, the Iowa Hawkeyes (4-2, 1-1 B1G Legends) football team are in Columbus, Ohio ready to return to action against the No. 3/4 Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0, 2-0 B1G Leaders). Game time from Ohio State Saturday is 2:36 p.m. Central Time on either ABC or ESPN 2.

The Buckeyes are in the second year under highly successful coach Urban Meyer, who is 18-0 overall in one and half seasons in Columbus.  The Buckeyes are 10-0 in Big Ten play, under Meyer. Both teams open the second half of the season coming off first bye week.

Iowa is playing at Ohio State for the first time since a 27-24 overtime loss in 2009, in a contest that decided the Big Ten title. The teams have not met since 2010, when the Buckeyes took a 20-17 win in Iowa City. The Buckeyes were ranked seventh in 2009 and eighth the following year when the teams met in Iowa City.

Iowa is 4-6 following a bye week since 1999, when Kirk Ferentz returned to the Iowa sidelines, as head football coach. Iowa has twice played Ohio State following a bye week (L, 19-10, at No. 8 OSU in 2003; W, 33-7 vs. No. 23 OSU in 2004).

The Iowa offense has rushed for over 200 yards in five of six games, but the ground game was slowed down in the recent 26-14 loss to Michigan State on Iowa's Homecoming. Iowa lead at halftime 14-10, but banged up with both #1 running back and #1 wide receiver out.

Today is Homecoming in the Horseshoe for Ohio State. Iowa opened Big Ten play at Minnesota this season, where the Hawkeyes spoiled the Gophers Homecoming, 23-7.

Can Iowa play spoilers again on the road?

"It's been good to get an opportunity to spend two uninterrupted weeks out there," said Brian Ferentz, Iowa's offensive line coach. "It was good to be able to spend three days just on us, which has really been a positive, especially with the younger player(s). With the open weekend we picked up a couple bonus days in preparing for Ohio State."

The Hawkeye offensive line starts two seniors in righ tackle Brett Van Sloten and left guard Conor Boffeli, along with junior left tackle Brandon Scherff, and right guard Jordan Walsh and center Austin Blythe, a pair of sophomores. Junior Andrew Donnal also rotates in the line-up each week at either guard or tackle.

"I feel like we are a better team that when we took the field two weeks ago," said Brian Ferentz, who is in his second year on the Iowa staff. "I think we've improved a little bit every week. The last trip out (vs. Michigan State), some of the tangible numbers were not as recognizable, as far as gaining ground. But, I really feel like the guys are gaining confidence; they are starting to play better.

"We still have to do a better job finishing blocks, running off the ball, moving the line of scrimmage, doing those types of things," said Ferentz, in discussing the finer points of offensive line play. "We need to really improve in pass protection, especially this week; this will be a tremendous challenge for us. Ohio State has a good defense; they have good pass rushers, but they also have big bodies that play well against the run, and they have active linebackers. We will find out if we are still improving. The key is to get better every week."

Iowa's offensive line hasn't given up a sack in Big Ten play. Iowa's first year starting quarterback has used his feet at the right times to avoid the sack. There have been turnovers though, and Iowa will have to avoid that key statistic in Columbus.

"You're not going to do exactly what you want to do (every game)," said redshirt sophomore quarterback Jake Rudock. "We want to establish the run, and unfortunately, we didn't do that two weeks ago.

"It's one game, and we can't let that game deter us. We have to continue to try to execute in the pass and run game and let them feed off each other. We'll see where it takes us." said junior running back Mark Weisman, who missed much of the Michigan State game, due to a foot injury. Iowa's #1 running back is expected back and healthy for today's game vs. Ohio State.

"You want to have a good balance so the defense is unsure what you're going to throw at them. It's good to be able to mix it up and keep them guessing," Rudock said.

Iowa lost at Michigan last season, 42-17. While Rudock didn't take a snap in any games last season, the offensive game plan may be something we can draw from last year's Michigan game, as we look at how Iowa may executr the role of  spoiler during Ohio State's Homecoming?

Iowa was banged up at Michigan, especially at running back and in the linebacker corp last year.  The offense emphasized both the tight ends and running backs in the passing game. With healthy running backs, this should help Iowa with a balanced attack with the run and pass. Junior #2 running back Damon Bullock, missed the Michigan game last year. But, he showed an explosive TD reception vs. Michigan State and should be another Iowa player to watch.

Iowa is deepest at tight end, with five players contributing in 2013. Senior C.J. Fiedorwicz and junior Ray Hamilton are the bread winners. But, sophomores Jake Duzey and Henry Coble-Krieger, along with redshirt freshman George Kittle can all contribute in the passing game. 

Iowa's defense is lead by a trio of senior linebackers, and they should all be ready to go, unlike at Michigan last year, when Iowa was banged up. Seniors James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Anthony Hitchens need to continue to step up and lead Iowa's defense.

The defensive line is lead by senior sack leader Dominic Alvis at defensive end. Iowa was young in the defensive line last season, while still young this year, with only one senior, the Hawkeyes are much improved as a defense with the overall play of the front seven.

It will be critical to have all 11 defensive players on the same page at Ohio State.

Ohio State is not a team that sneaks up on many people, so don't expect Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker to be surprised when he steps on the field in Columbus today.

This will be his first time as Iowa's defensive coordinator for Parker.  He has been at Iowa for all 15 seasons under head coach Kirk Ferentz, serving 14 seasons coaching the secondary, along with DC role now in his second season.

The Buckeyes are enjoying an 18 straight winning streak. They average more than 46 points and nearly 500 yards of total offense each week. Naturally they have Parker's attention.

"Obviously they have a great leader in junior quarterback Braxton Miller," Parker said following final football practice inside Kinnick Stadium in preperation of today's game. "They have a lot of skill guys and up front they're well-coached on the offensive line. They're very talented. They have a good scheme and they play within their scheme. They're a very explosive team."

Explosive often and early. Ohio State has outscored its opponents 126-28 in the first quarter this season. Iowa's defense hasn't allowed a first quarter score since the season opener - a span of five games. If the Hawkeyes are going to make it six, they'll need to slow Miller, a dual threat that enters the contest with more career rushing yards than any Ohio State quarterback in school history.

"I don't know if you can totally stop him," said Parker. "I think you have to try to contain him as much as you can, don't give up the big plays on the back end, and make sure you have good pursuit angels and leverage with everybody. It's going to take all 11 guys to make a tackle."

Parker is encouraged that this Iowa defense is the one capable performing the "all-in" task. He also echoed head coach Kirk Ferentz's comments that the defensive line is as improved from a year ago as any unit on the team - evidenced by the fact that the Hawkeyes are the only team in the country not to have allowed a rushing touchdown this year.

"No questioned we're a lot more experienced," said Parker. "Obviously Louis (Trinca-Pasat is more experienced), and Carl Davis is doing a good job with Alvis on the outside. Drew Ott is a sophomore, he's not a freshman anymore, and he's doing a great job. The two starters inside are now juniors.

"One thing about our team is we have great team unity. They're very close. They're committed to understanding the game of football and I think they really give a great effort in preparation."

Stop explosive plays vs. Executing explosive plays...

The Hawkeyes need to find ways to make explosive plays on offense. This is something second-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis has mentioned heading into the season, in both the run and pass game.

In 2009, Ohio State hadn't given up an explosivie run, through ten games. Iowa made the game competitive one, including runs of 12 yards or more and passes of 16 yards of more. These are key goals of the Iowa offense at Ohio State.

Tempo on offense will be very important to watch as well for Iowa as lineup on offense. Iowa has a 1-2 bunch at running back, playing together now, unlike last year's Big Ten season. Weisman and Bullock need to be effective, in both the run and pass game for Iowa.

Drops, miscues and execution will all play important roles. How will the ball bounce in Columbus?

Iowa is 4-0 when winning the turnover margin. The Hawkeyes are plus-two overall on the season. Interceptions and fake punts fueled opponents, in Iowa's two losses, so special teams and field position will be very important angles as well.

The margin of error is very thin for Iowa. Ohio State has won the last six games over Iowa by a margin of 17 points. Iowa did win in 2004, so they have lost six of past seven in series. In the 2003 game in Columbus, Ohio State didn't score an offensive touchdown from scrimmage, but held Iowa's offense out of the end zone.

Who wins the battle of the red zone?

Who wins the explosive play battle?

Who wins the turnover margin game?

Field position will be a big factor, as well, as Iowa will need to play well in all phases vs. Ohio State.  Our pick: Upset Alert: Iowa 28, Ohio State 27.

Iowa returns home for its next two games, hosting Northwestern (Oct. 26, 11 a.m., BTN) and Wisconsin (Nov. 2, time/tv to be determined next week).

A win in Columbus would be huge in the B1G Legends race. As Eddie Podalak, Iowa's color commentator would say, "Something has got to give" today as the Hawkeyes face the Buckeyes!

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