Can you believe it’s been almost seven years since Ohio State played Iowa on the road? Although the NCAA likes to pretend that the 2010 Buckeyes squad doesn’t exist, you and I know better; and what a crazy game it was.
With the Buckeyes’ Big Ten title hopes on the line, a scrappy Iowa team played the brand of nearly unwatchable football they’ve perfected over the last two decades, and held a 17-13 lead late into the fourth quarter, until boss-ass Terrelle Pryor decided it was time to make some plays:
Ohio State eventually scored on that drive, held on for a 20-17 win, and haven’t made the trip to Iowa City since.
Fast forward seven years, and Ohio State still has hopes for a Big Ten title and is in the national championship hunt, and Iowa is [checks advanced stats page] still playing unwatchable football. Time really is a flat circle.
With that in mind, here are five things to watch for as Ohio State takes on Iowa:
Can Ohio State avoid a hangover from last week’s emotional win?
On this week’s Hangout in the Holy Land game preview, Matt Brown and I surmised that the only real way Iowa can pull the upset is by getting off to a fast start. If the Hawkeyes force an early turnover or make a big special teams play, it’s not hard to picture this being the classic type of Big Ten slogfest that’s right in their wheelhouse.
Even with last week’s early mistakes, the Buckeyes are one of the best first quarter teams in the country (5th in Q1 S&P+ offense, 4th on defense), and can take what’s sure to be a fired-up Kinnick Stadium crowd out of the game early with a mistake-free start.
Essentially, what I’m really saying here is that the last thing any of us need in our lives right now is wondering how Ohio State got knocked out of the playoff race by Kirk Ferentz; so please, Ohio State, get off to a fast start.
So, what’s the plan on kickoffs?
It’s wild that Ohio State’s biggest problem since the OU debacle has been figuring out how to cover kickoffs/not kicking the ball out of bounds, but I suppose it beats last year’s fatal flaw of not being able to execute the forward pass.
It’s a serious issue though, and one that almost single-handedly lost them the Penn State game. Urban Meyer has apparently had enough, and you can expect some higher-end talent on the kickoff coverage unit tomorrow:
Meyer said Dante Booker and Austin Mack have been added to kickoff coverage unit.— Bill Rabinowitz (@brdispatch) November 2, 2017
Not sure how great I feel about one of Ohio State’s most important receivers having to cover kicks because the coaches are too upset to admit their strategy of trying to pin opponents deep isn’t working, but here we are.
Former Buckeye specialist and punt god Cameron Johnston had this to say about Meyer’s assertion that the Buckeyes don’t have a kicker capable of producing touchbacks:
I don't believe this at all, seen first hand both kickers being able to. https://t.co/DdGNh8D4WN— Cameron Johnston (@Cam_Johnston) October 30, 2017
Welp. No matter what, it can’t get worse than last week (hopefully), and we’ll see if adding some more talent to the coverage unit fixes the problem.
What if Mike Weber got carries instead of passes in the flat?
Speaking of questionable strategies, let’s review what happened when Ohio State threw the ball to Mike Weber last week:
- Five yard loss
- Nine yard gain
- Seven yard loss
- Nine yard gain
- Three yard gain
In total, Weber had five catches on six targets for nine yards, which adds up to a robust 1.8 yards per target. I get why Offensive Coordinator Kevin Wilson wants to use flat passes and bubble screens to punish defenses downfield later in games, but there are probably better ways of doing that than throwing to your power back for a gain of two.
To be fair, it isn’t Weber’s fault that he’s being used like Warrick Dunn. Those swing passes and checkdowns are still an important piece of the offense, but it’ll be interesting to see whether a few more of those go to J.K. Dobbins, who has a better shot of making something out of nothing than Weber.
Expect even more TFL’s from the Ohio State defense
Ohio State racked up an incredible 13 tackles for loss last week, and Iowa’s suspect run blocking is going to give them a chance to match or exceed that total.
The Hawkeyes’ offensive line have made for excellent turnstiles this year, ranking 103 nationally in Stuff Rate (tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage), which doesn’t bode well against a Buckeye defense that is one of the best in the nation at controlling the line of scrimmage (3rd in Defensive Stuff Rate).
Ohio State should be able to force plenty of 2nd/3rd-and-long’s, which means plenty of the rushmen package, and Iowa quarterback Nathan Stanley doing his best 4th quarter Trace McSorely impersonation:
Jordan Fuller is quietly having a monster season
Having a safety lead your defense in tackles is a scary proposition. Either he has a nose for the ball, or the rest of your defense is getting torched and he’s picking up the scraps . Luckily for Ohio State, Jordan Fuller’s case is the former.
The sophomore has been a beast in run support, which was on full display last week with his team-leading eight tackles, including this crucial third down tackle on Saquon Barkley:
Fuller is a different breed of safety than the ballhawks Ohio State has fielded in recent years, but his playmaking ability is just the same.
Against a vanilla Iowa offense, the Buckeyes will probably count on Fuller to make a few more plays at the line of scrimmage, and it’s worth keeping an eye on him just to see how much he means to this defense.