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Ohio State’s secondary must stand tall against both the run and pass vs. Iowa.

Can the Buckeyes’ defensive backs continue to make their presence felt in opponent’s backfields?

Ohio State v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Much of the Big Ten, Ohio State included, has embraced principles of the spread offense and evolved over the past 20 years. Rich Rodriguez and Urban Meyer each brought less-successful programs to national prominence thanks in large part to their innovative offensive systems, and the rest of the country quickly attempted to catch up and reap the benefits.

Well, most of the country attempted to embrace the spread offense. Kirk Ferentz has been Iowa’s head coach since 1999, and they’ve continued to embody your used-to-be typical physical and run-first Big-Ten team. An argument could be made that this at-times less-explosive brand of football can expose the Hawkeyes against clearly-inferior opponents, as evidenced by a loss to North Dakota State last season and narrow win against Rutgers.

Still, dealing with Iowa’s pro-style offense based upon instilling their will at the line of scrimmage is far from the most-enjoyable experience the Buckeyes defense will have this season, and the Hawkeyes have proven to be dangerous, as evidenced by their two-point loss to Penn State this season. The burden in slowing down the offense will fall most heavily on the defensive line, although defensive coordinator Greg Schiano showed last week that the Buckeyes’ defensive backs can be just as important in creating negative plays in the run game:

Ohio State’s corners won’t feel threatened by any Hawkeyes on the perimeter, so don’t be surprised if the Buckeyes’ secondary is once again very involved in the trenches. The Hawkeyes don’t have a receiver with over 400 yards this season, as five separate players are stuck between 200 and 380. Two of those receivers are tight ends, as Iowa will regularly work from under center and attempt to beat the Buckeyes with play-action passes when they do take chances downfield. Nick Easley is perhaps the Hawkeyes No. 1 threat, as he’s posted a season-long 36-375-4 line and is slippery enough in the open field to make things happen against man coverage.

Although he struggled against Oklahoma, Damon Arnette has emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the slot. Ohio State doesn’t give any of its corners consistent help, and Arnette’s role as the nickel back is intuitively more difficult than outside corner due to the lack of a sideline for assistance. Arnette’s ability to track Easley across the field could prove to be vital in getting the Buckeyes off of the field:

Penn State couldn’t consistently run or pass on Ohio State last week, but they still managed to overcome numerous third-and-long situations and ultimately converted seven of their 15 attempts on the money down. The Hawkeyes hardly offer the same level of firepower as the Nittany Lions, but the Buckeyes need to take advantage of any, and all, opportunities to build a lead against an offense not built to score quickly.

Ohio State’s secondary stood tall against its toughest test yet last week. Playing behind the best defensive line in the country, the Buckeyes’ corners and safeties must take advantage of any mistakes that come their way. Against Iowa, this could mean making tackles behind the line of scrimmage when the opportunity arises.

The Buckeyes are currently favored by 17.5 points with a 52-point over/under, meaning Vegas is projecting a score of 34.75-17.25 in favor of the Buckeyes. J.T. Barrett proved last week that he’s more than capable of holding his own in a shootout, but Ohio State’s secondary can go a long ways towards keeping this one firmly in the Buckeyes’ control.