|#9 Ohio State 9-1, 5-1 Big Ten Roster | Schedule||November 20, 2010 3:30 PM ET - ABC —— Kinnick Stadium Iowa City, IA||#20 Iowa 7-3, 4-2 Big Ten Roster | Schedule|
When looking over the schedule in the dog days of July, two games jumped out at Buckeye fans as potential obstacles to a national championship run: Wisconsin in Madison and Iowa in Iowa City. The Buckeyes didn't have enough in the tank to pass the first test, but Saturday's visit to Iowa City still looms large if Tressel's troops want to keep dreams of another Big Ten championship and BCS bowl berth alive.
For the second year in a row, the Hawkeyes take on Ohio State after having just lost to (just) Northwestern. Last year, the Wildcats broke up a 9-0 start and knocked Ricky Stanzi, America's alpha patriot, out for the season. However, Iowa took the Buckeyes to an epic overtime thanks to the tough play of backup quarterback James Vandenberg and a huge kick return out of Derrell Johnson-Koulianos.
Last week in Evanston, Northwestern's win only served as another stinger in a season that has seen its share of painful outings for Kirk Ferentz's squad. The Hawkeyes took a number #9 ranking into Tucson for a week three matchup with Arizona and Mike Stoops emerged with a rare big game win. Wisconsin would deliver the next dagger, closing Iowa out late in Iowa City, just one week after handing Ohio State it's first loss of the season.
At this point, the Hawkeyes are just trying to play themselves into a quality bowl appearance, but Saturday is Senior Day and with Stanzi, Johnson-Koulianos, Karl Klug, Adrian Clayborn and others playing their final game in Kinnick, you can expect the affair to be nothing short of a barroom brawl.
In Stanzi (#12), the Hawkeyes have one of the nation's top quarterbacks. Known for his "Stanziballs" last season, he's done a much better job of taking care of the football this year, having completed 66% of his passes for 2,482 yards and 22 touchdowns with just four interceptions, good enough to place first in the conference and third in the nation in passing efficiency with a rating of 167.19. The Mentor native will be getting his one and only chance to take on the Buckeyes and he's armed with with one of the better receiver corps in the Big Ten.
Johnson-Koulianos (#15) and Richard McNutt (#7) each enter averaging a bit over four receptions per game and are neck and neck in yards with 673 and 660, respectively. DJK is more of the deep threat, while McNutt's size (6-4/215) presents a matchup problem for just about any secondary without monster corners. Senior tight end Allen Reisner (#82), a Mackey Award semifinalist, also has great size to go along with great hands and will be a frequent target of Stanzi, as will flanker Colin Sandeman (#22).
Sophomore Adam Robinson (#32) has once again stepped up in the place of injuries and has responded with 914 yards and 10 touchdowns in his nine games this season. At just 5-9 and a tad over 200, he won't necessarily wear down a defense, but he runs hard, has great vision and is patient behind his blockers. He's also a threat catching passes out of the backfield as evidenced by his 20 receptions thus far.
The Hawkeye offensive line is your typical Iowa line: corn-fed and hardened by facing a premier defensive front on a daily basis in practice. The cog is senior Julian Vandervelde (#63) and Ferentz won't hesitate to run behind the guard all afternoon if the group can open holes against the Buckeyes. Although solid, the line hasn't escaped local criticism and at times -- like the final series against Arizona -- seemed to wilt under pressure from agressive front sevens.
Iowa's defensive line, led by Clayborn (#94), is as good as any the Buckeyes will face this season. Though his 3.5 sacks have been a bit of a disappointment for a guy that destroyed much of the Big Ten last season, he commands respect that helps free up Klug (#95) and Mike Daniels (#93). All three rank within the top ten in the Big Ten in sacks, while Daniels and Klug are 5th and 9th in the league in tackles for loss.
Linebacker Jeremiha Hunter (#42) is the team's leading tackler, averaging 7.2 per game. Junior Tyler Nielsen (#45) was injured in the win against the Spartans earlier this month and will miss the remainder of the season, but Jeff Tarpinian (#33) is back in action at middle linebacker. Dinged up or not, the backers and linemen have held opponents to just 86.8 rushing yards per game, good enough for fourth in the nation.
Ferentz's team is strong up the middle of the secondary with junior Tyler Sash (#9) and senior Brett Greenwood (#30). Greenwood leads Iowa with four interceptions at free safety, while Sash has two from his strong safety spot. If Pryor decides to have one of his "F-IT I'M GOING DEEP INTO DOUBLES" moments, one or the other will make him pay for that mistake. At corner, Micah Hyde (#18), a Fostoria native, is an excellent tackler, while his counterpart, Shaun Prater (#28), will look to matchup with Dane.
When you take into account the fact that Iowa doesn't turn the ball over (they lead the nation with just 7 turnovers surrendered), has the conference's best punter, it's top kick return man and the three-time Big Ten Coach of the Year patrolling its sidelines and there just aren't a lot of weaknesses to exploit. Ferentz will have his team prepared and the Buckeyes will likely end up in a fight for only the third time this season.
While last season, the Buckeyes ran the ball well against the Hawkeyes (229 yards vs just 93 through the air), Terrelle Pryor hinted that something more might be in store this weekend when he told reporters earlier in the week that the Iowa game plan was his favorite since being at Ohio State. With Tressel running the ship, you never quite know what you'll get on when the pads start popping, but based off of Pryor's comment, we can probably expect a more Terrelle-centric version of the offense.
It will be interesting to see how far that goes as the running game has really come into its own the past two weeks, but I imagine some sort of early passing to open up holes for Boom. The Hawkeye front is really good, but the personnel was nearly the same last year when the Buckeyes ran up all of those yards in the Shoe.
The Iowa secondary has the talent to stay with Ohio State's receivers and possibly even confuse Pryor with coverage, so it's imperative that Posey gets it going again this week and the plan gets the ball to Sanzenbacher and Stoneburner earlier in the game.
Defensively, the Buckeyes must keep Adam Robinson in front of them and limit his yardage on first and second down. I'm worried about the banged-up Ohio State secondary taking on Stanzi, who is savvy and well-armed with talented pass-catchers. Teams have shown the ability to throw on the Bucks before adjustments were made, so try to remain calm if the quarterback comes out and has some early success through the air.
Devin Barclay made his name against Iowa last season, when his 39-yard field goal in overtime sent the Buckeyes to the Rose Bowl. He'll likely play an important role in this one as well as the offense won't be able to count every trip to the red zone as an automatic six. The coverage unit is also in for a treat, taking on the league's top kick return man, DJK. This is the type of game that could very well come down to one score and you'd hate to see it be a return that tripped up the Buckeyes. Again.
Ultimately, this is a well-rested Buckeye team that probably has enough talent to steal a close one in front of the anticipated blackout. It certainly won't be easy, so prepare yourself for a nerve-wracking afternoon, but nothing worthwhile in life comes easy.
Ohio State 26, Iowa 20