2-Minute Drill -- The Ohio State Buckeyes
Personnel-wise, the Buckeyes' front seven is monstrous and athletic. Sophomore Adolphus Washington (6-4, 295) and true freshman Joey Bosa (6-6, 275) split one defensive spot. Bosa was Big Ten freshman of the week with two sacks and a fumble recovery for a TD in OSU's last outing, a 40-30 victory over Northwestern. Viper DE (yes, "Viper") Noah Spence is sixth in the Big Ten with three sacks and seventh with six tackles for loss. The Buckeyes get a boost inside this week with the return of sophomore DT Tommy Schutt (6-1, 299), who's been out since camp with a foot injury.
Linebacker Ryan Shazier leads Ohio State with 47 tackles to go along with eight tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. The Buckeyes have three sophomores and four juniors in the front seven, but the overall talent is impressive and speed is abundant.
If you want a to know how Buckeyes' co-coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers might call this check out the Buckeyes' victory against Wisconsin. The Buckeyes let their front seven do work -- they penetrated, kept Shazier free to scrape and held the Badgers to 104 rushing yards, their lowest output of the season.
How healthy is Iowa? That's a big question mark for this game, but it's a gigantic question mark for the Hawkeyes' running game. Two weeks ago against Michigan State, running back Mark Weisman suffered a foot injury and carried seven times for 9 yards. Also, left offensive tackle Brandon Scherff again missed a few series with some pain in his leg, the one in which he broke the fibula and suffered a dislocated ankle to end his 2012 season. When that injury happened, Scherff ended up on a John Deere Gator and waved his arms up and down trying to get the Kinnick crowd out of its seats. So, you know there's a pain issue.
Michigan State shut down Iowa's rushing game (16 carries for 23 yards). The Spartans are the only team Ohio State looks up to in the Big Ten rush defense statistics (MSU is No. 1 with 26.17 yards a game; OSU is No. 2 at 32.00).
Weisman is good to go. Probably. In case of limited Weisman, can Iowa make a living off RB Damon Bullock? His best game/most touches this season was 17 carries for 76 yards in the opener against Northern Illinois. There is nothing on paper here that favors the Hawkeyes.
Advantage: Ohio State
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer referred to his pass defense as "alarming." Statistically, it's the weaker element of Ohio State's defense. The Buckeyes are eighth in the league, allowing 240.0 yards a game. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 61.4 percent of their passes (ninth in the league). That also means Ohio State has made every team it's faced, including rush-heavy Wisconsin, one-dimensional, so, yes, this might be like trying to polish a squished bug of the windshield of a Porsche for the Buckeyes.
Ohio State runs just about every coverage you can think of. Wisconsin and Northwestern had success throwing the ball (four TD passes combined to two interceptions) because of coverage breakdowns and missed assignments. UW's Jared Abbrederis did some things one-on-one vs. corner Bradley Roby, but Iowa doesn't have an Abbrederis and might not have a 100 percent Kevonte Martin-Manley (who missed the second half of the Michigan State game with a lower-body injury).
When Michigan State shut down the run, Iowa tried to lean passing game. The pass wasn't able to hold things up. In the second half, Iowa QB Jake Rudock completed 14 of 31 for 98 yards and an interception (a 65.26 pass efficiency). He finished with 5.2 yards a pass attempt, the lowest in his six games as starter by 1.7 yards.
MSU forced Iowa out of its comfort zone. Iowa's defense kept it close, but the offense was stuck. How does it get unstuck? Iowa didn't protect Rudock very well. It wasn't sacks as much as it was pressure and keeping Rudock's eyes moving up and down. If Iowa protects, it has a better chance for an explosive play. Northwestern hit four pass plays of 20-plus yards against the Buckeyes. Iowa had just two against Michigan State, but one was a 47-yard TD and the other led to a touchdown.
Iowa has 14 pass plays of 20-plus yards this season. That's No. 102 in the country.
Advantage: Ohio State
Ohio State wanted to muscle up against Northwestern and so it did. Senior running back Carlos Hyde had a career-best 168 yards and three TDs behind an O-line that made inside zone plays work, specifically behind the left side of tackle Jack Mewhort (6-6, 308 and most O-line name ever?) and guard Andrew Norwell (6-6, 316). It's just beef totally beefing out and controlling the point of attack, especially with Hyde clocking in at 6-0, 235 himself.
This is a major reason why Ohio State is mentioned as a national title contender (not just because it is the front runner to run the Big Ten table, though that doesn't hurt). The Buckeyes can change gears within gears. It can play power football and then QB Braxton Miller can run any version of OSU's read plays and has the potential to take it the distance.
If you think Iowa's health was iffy on offense -- the main RB, main WR and main OT in and out vs. MSU -- the front seven is much more vulnerable. Linebackers James Morris and Christian Kirksey missed time against the Spartans. They should play, but how well? Defensive end Dominic Alvis (lower body) left in the first half and didn't return. Defensive tackle Carl Davis (leg) missed a series before returning. So, yeah, that's four players in the front seven who needed the idle week to idle.
Iowa will be fighting battles on two fronts. It might be able to trade punches on the inside. Davis has been a revelation this season. DT Louis Trinca-Pasat is technique sound and rarely puts himself in a bad position. Since major contain breakdowns in 2012, Iowa has been super conscious of option quarterbacks. In the opener, the Hawkeyes held Northern Illinois QB Jordan Lynch to 2.55 yards on 22 carries. And, no, Lynch isn't Miller. Nope, not Miller, who has missed two games with a knee injury.
Oh yeah, Ohio State has Jordan Hall (5-9, 191), too. He leads the Buckeyes with 427 yards and is tied for the league lead with eight rushing TDs.
Iowa is the last team in the country to allow a rushing TD. This stat is more a novelty than anything, but it was one that OSU indicated early in the week it would like to change.
Advantage: Ohio State
Miller gets critiqued for turnovers. Remember, this is Ohio State and Buckeye problems aren't your team's problems, but Miller does have four turnovers in four starts this season (two interceptions and two lost fumbles). That's this year, in which he's missed two games because of a knee injury. In his career, Miller has 34 TD passes to 12 INTs. He's an option QB, there will be fumbles (he has 21 in three seasons), but as far as the passing game goes, Miller runs a relatively clean ship.
Iowa can't be too quick on the trigger in this game. Ohio State devastated Northwestern with a strong play-action passing game. It's a natural extension of an offense with an athletic QB who finished fifth in the Heisman voting last season. Michigan State ran one pass play out of the option and it caught Iowa for a 37-yard TD pass. Receivers Corey Brown (30 receptions for 381 yards, five TDs) and Devin Smith (23, 362, five TDs) are the Buckeyes' top receivers. Smith is a high school high jump champion.
The lack of a pass rush has dictated a couple of deviations from Iowa's defense this season. Iowa has blitzed more than it has in the past. The Hawkeyes have blitzed 59 times in 389 snaps with the blitzes, according to defensive coordinator Phil Parker, affecting the play 73 percent of the time.
The other change is more man coverage from the corners. Parker wants to challenge on mid-yardage third downs. He wants to see if QBs have the accuracy and patience to execute on a third-and-5 with a corner in the face of the intended target. The results there have been mixed. In this game, on the road, at Ohio State, where Iowa hasn't won since 1991, expect more zone (Iowa has bounced between cover 1 and cover 3). If Iowa allows big plays (it's No. 19 in the nation with 19 plays of 20-plus allowed), it'll unplug everything (namely tempo) that might keep Iowa in this.
Advantage: Ohio State
Nowhere in OSU coach Urban Meyer's $4 million contract does it say he has to coach special teams, but he does. A couple of stats from Meyer's days as Florida's head coach are relevant here: In 25 of his final 33 games at Florida, the Gators didn't allow any yardage in punt returns. The Buckeyes have had one punt returned on them this season for 3 yards. In six years at Florida, the Gators blocked 32 kicks, including 21 punts. In two years at Ohio State, Meyer's teams have blocked eight kicks, including a punt that went for an OSU touchdown two weeks ago against Northwestern.
At one point during the idle week, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz stood behind the "no more punt returns" pledge he made after Michigan State executed a fake punt that ended in a field goal and stole a possession from the Hawkeyes in the fourth quarter. He never meant it, but said he did and it went through the national spin cycle. He clarified that this week. Of course, Iowa will return punts.
Advantage: Ohio State
1) Style points — Ohio State has won 18 consecutive games. It's half way through a bid for back-to-back perfect seasons and is in the middle of the race for a bid in the BCS title game. Alabama and Oregon are Nos. 1 and 2 going into this weekend. The Buckeyes are No. 3, so, yes, it's a possibility, albeit a remote one, that OSU runs the table for a second straight year and is frozen out of the title game. Does it have something to gain by squeezing all the ketchup out of the Hawkeyes? Probably, yes.
2) History can be pretty historical — In no stretch of the imagination does history fall on Iowa's side, not in the entire series and especially not at Ohio Stadium, where the Hawkeyes haven't won since 1991. Ohio State also has won 12 of the last 13 in the series. The average margin of victory in Columbus is 17 points, which happens to be the point spread this weekend.
3) Hard-headed stubbornness — Every once in a while, Ferentz sets his jaw and puts the hard focus on putting the Hawkeyes in place to beat a team it shouldn't. The best example might be 2008 Penn State, which was No. 3 and lost at Kinnick. A lesser example is 2006 Michigan. Iowa was the lesser team, illustrated by redshirt freshman linebacker Pat Angerer giving it a try at DE against UM all-American left tackle Jake Long. Ferentz harangued officials, the Hawkeyes trailed just 10-6 going into the fourth quarter and lost steam 20-6. You could argue that kind of bullheadedness laid a foundation for 2008-09, when Iowa went 20-6 with a pair of bowl victories. That would be something to look for today.
Advantage: Ohio State
Manages the big play-o-meter. Iowa needs to make a few and, on the other hand, limit Ohio State. This would take a flip of the switch for the offense. Big plays continue to be elusive in year 2 of offensive coordinator Greg Davis. The Hawkeyes' 74 plays of 10-plus yards is No. 98 in the nation. Conversely, Iowa's defense has allowed 58 plays of 10-plus, which is tied for No. 10.
Hoses down turnovers and limits Iowa's running game. Turnovers have a way of ruining the best-laid plans. All the percentages slide away from you when you turn over the ball, which unplugs all the recruiting and athleticism in the world. OSU is OK here, but it could be an "in" for Iowa. If Iowa isn't able to run the ball, the game is going to get away from it quickly.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 34, Iowa 13