Four things Iowa can do to position itself for a fourth consecutive win against a top-five rated opponent:
1. Establish the run. It’s probably unrealistic to expect the Hawkeyes to reach their season rushing average of 207.5 yards against another strong defense against the run. The Buckeyes have limited foes to 86.2 yards per game on the ground, a number topped only by the Michigan State defense which held Iowa to 23 rushing yards in the Hawkeyes’ most recent game. With Mark Weisman insisting that a foot injury that took him off the field against the Spartans has healed, Iowa will need to establish the run to bring balance to the offense. That starts up front and includes both effective games from Weisman and Damon Bullock. Without that, it could be a long day in the horseshoe for the Hawkeyes.
2. Start fast. The Buckeyes have been one of the fastest-starting teams in the country this season, averaging 21.3 points in the first quarter. Iowa has totaled just 27 points in the opening quarter during the entire season. The Hawkeyes need to reverse both of those trends, slowing the Buckeyes offense and finding their way onto the scoreboard themselves. The longer the Hawkeyes can hang around in this game, the better the chance Iowa has of improving to 3-0 on the road.
3. Frontline success. When Iowa battled Ohio State to an overtime game in Columbus in 2009, Adrian Clayborn was a beast on the defensive front. The Hawkeyes, who have improved this season across the defensive line, will need that type of above average performance again against an OSU offense which averages just under 500 yards per game. Four of Iowa’s front seven on defense missed at least part of the Michigan State game with injuries. All are expected back and they will be needed if Iowa hopes to extend its string of 24 straight quarters without allowing a rushing touchdown.
4. Go deep. If Ohio State has issues on defense, they lie behind a physical, athletic front seven. Jake Rudock’s ability to work over those players and challenge a secondary which has been giving up 240 yards per game through the air will be important. While offensive coordinator Greg Davis has said he is comfortable with Rudock throwing the deep ball, Iowa has connected on just 14 pass plays of 20 or more yards this season. They’ll need to add to that against the Buckeyes.
Four things Ohio State can do to keep Iowa winless in Columbus since 1991:
1. Establish the run. Ohio State’s ground game has been punishing this season, piling up 280.7 yards per game. Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall and freshman Ezekiel Elliott have all had success working behind a strong offensive front. The Buckeyes are well aware that Iowa hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown this season and Hyde talked earlier this week about how OSU planned to stick with its game and take the ball right at the Hawkeyes on the ground.
2. Plenty of play action. Braxton Miller, back from a knee injury which kept him out of two games and most of a third, has had another week to heal as Ohio State joins Iowa in coming into Saturday’s game off of a bye. The junior option quarterback found success in moving the Buckeyes’ offense at Northwestern with play-action passes and he has the receivers to make that work. Corey Brown and Devin Smith have combined for 53 catches covering 743 yards through six games.
3. Take care of the ball. While Ohio State has forced opponents to turn the ball over 12 times this season – only three Big Ten teams have collected more – the Buckeyes have given the ball away eight times this season including three times in their two Big Ten games. The ability to avoid those potentially game-changing mistakes will be important for Ohio State.
4. Keep on keeping on. The Buckeyes have won 18 consecutive games, the longest ongoing win streak in college football and the fourth longest in the program’s history. The Buckeyes lead the Big Ten in scoring at 46.8 points per game and have been holding opponents to 19.2 points, fourth among Big Ten teams. Replacing six of their front seven on defense, the Buckeyes are still fifth in the league in total defense. Coach Urban Meyer’s team has had two weeks to prepare for the Hawkeyes and that may not be a good thing for Iowa. Meyer-coached teams at Bowling Green, Utah, Florida and Ohio State are 34-2 when having more than one week to prepare for an opponent.