After what seemed like an interminable off week, the Buckeyes are finally back. This week, they get a test against a very tough Iowa defense that should provide yet another benchmark for Urban Meyer's offense. Thus far, Ohio State has been able to move the ball when it had to, although it is only a top-20 offense in Football Outsiders' F+/ rankings. Iowa's defense is stingy enough to give the Buckeyes a test, even if they may not have the athletes of a Wisconsin or Michigan State. It's time for the Buckeyes to prove their mettle against a middling Big Ten offense and assert their dominance. If they can't, it could hurt their position in the national title hunt.
1. Press coverage
Our own Christopher Jason outlined the successes and struggles that Bradley Roby has had so far this year. Roby doesn't always match up against the other team's best receiver, as the Buckeyes tend to have one corner play the short side of the field and one play the wide (field) side. However, against Wisconsin, Roby followed Jared Abbrederis around the whole game and lost many of his matchups when he played off coverage. What fans have been clamoring for (especially now that Doran Grant got a game-changing interception playing press coverage against Northwestern) is for the Buckeyes to get a little more aggressive. Roby likes to play up on the line and physically challenge receivers, and expect him to do the same thing on Saturday as the Buckeyes try to take Kevonte Martin-Manley away.
2. Vandenberg II?
James Vandenberg came in to the 'Shoe in 2009 and had an outstanding day against a 10th-ranked Buckeye squad in an elimination game that the Buckeyes ultimately won. Jake Rudock has played decently this season, and he has a couple of good targets to throw to in Manley and a star tight end, C.J. Fiedorowicz. Fiedorowicz already has two touchdowns and averages 8.9 yards per reception, second on the team among players with more than 10 catches. Damond Powell, a JUCO transfer, is also a threat, having scored a 74-yard touchdown earlier this season. The main focus is going to be on running back Mark Weisman, but Jake Rudock is more than capable of hurting the Buckeye defense. This is not the San Diego State offense.
3. Getting A Push Up Front
Iowa's defensive line has been its strength all year long, and has led them to an excellent F+ efficiency percentage of 14.4, good for 15th in the nation. Junior defensive tackles Carl Alvis and Louis Trinica-Pasat are the strength of the line right up the middle, and are very difficult to get a push against. Corey Linsley will need to be his usual elite self and get some help from guards Andrew Norwell and Marcus Hall. The Buckeyes also will have an easier time running a read-option, as the Hawkeyes tend to run a base defense with 4 down linemen a high percentage of the time. The key will be handling the two defensive tackles, as well as stud defensive end Dominic Alvis, in check. If the offensive line can do that, the Buckeyes have a chance to get their skill players one-on-one with linebackers who are thumpers but aren't quite as good defending quick backs and receivers in space.
4. Better Call Hall - No, Really This Time
Christian Kirksey and James Morris are good linebackers who thrive on stopping runs inside the box. Carlos Hyde is an incredibly physical presence in his own right. But, he is not the most agile guy. That honor belongs to Jordan Hall, who the Buckeyes should utilize at least for a few more snaps than they have in the past couple of weeks. Hall appears to be finally healthy and I expect that we'll see Tom Herman try to get him in space, isolated on a linebacker or safety. Those are battles that a healthy, experienced Jordan Hall can win.
5. Staying Disciplined
With all the focus on Mark Weisman and Iowa running almost a 2:1 ration of run plays to pass plays, Ohio State will need to be wary of overpursuing run plays and watch out for play-action. The linebackers, led by Ryan Shazier, cannot be fooled. They need to be disciplined, cover Fiedorowicz on crossing routes, and make sure that the Hawkeyes' quicker players (such as Damon Bullock) don't beat them on cutback runs. The Buckeye defense has to frustrate Rudock and make all his throws difficult. If they do that, and based on the advantage they already have in physical talent, they can overwhelm Iowa.