Ohio State certainly hopes to get off to a better start Saturday on the road against Iowa than it did last week in the showdown in Columbus vs. Penn State. The Nittany Lions opened the proceedings last Saturday in Ohio Stadium with Saquon Barkley returning the kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Then, a turnover on offense resulted in another touchdown for Penn State. There were multiple penalties, such as false start or pass interference, committed by the Buckeyes, as well as atrocious special teams throughout the game.
Despite all of this and trailing repeatedly throughout the game (21-3, 28-10, 35-20 and 38-27), Ohio State rallied in the fourth quarter to knock off undefeated Penn State, 39-38, behind a relentless pass rush, and the superb play of senior quarterback J.T. Barrett.
It is against this backdrop of emotion that is still reverberating throughout the college football landscape that brings the Buckeyes (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten) to Iowa City to face the Hawkeyes (5-3, 2-3). And it is because of this dramatic Penn State victory, and Iowa's well-deserved reputation as a spoiler, that should make Ohio State fans very uneasy going into this game.
The Hawkeyes are coming off of a hard-fought 17-10 victory at home over Minnesota. Iowa never trailed in the contest, outgained the Golden Gophers (315 to 281), but also had more turnovers (2 to 1), and lost the time of possession battle (28:47 vs. 31:13). In other words, it was the type of game that Iowa likes to play, and usually wins, by being close throughout. It's the same type of game that resulted in an upset of then-undefeated Penn State, back in 2008, or last season, when the Hawkeyes dashed Michigan's national title hopes at Kinnick Stadium with a 14-13 victory.
Whatever the outcome of this game ends up being, Iowa will be breaking out some new duds for its nationally televised tilt with Ohio State
At his Oct. 30 press conference, Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer praised Iowa. “They're just tough. They're like their coach [Kirk Ferentz]. Their coach is a tough guy. They're like the state of Iowa. They're tough people. I love Iowa. I love... I never met too many people or players that just don't have that Iowa characteristic of toughness and I'm going to hit you as hard as I can."
Ohio State at Iowa
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 4 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Ohio State -17
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Iowa capitalize on Ohio State's special teams issues?
Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer summed up the state of his special teams succinctly in his Oct. 30 press conference saying, "It's a joke right now." Throughout the season, Ohio State has been unable to kick the ball into the end zone, which has led to productive returns by the opposition. The Buckeyes come into this game ranked seventh in the Big Ten at 19 yards per kickoff return, but because there have been so few touchbacks (six out of 65 kickoffs), it has translated to 123.5 yards in kickoff returns alone per game. Ohio State also has given up two touchdowns on kickoff returns, including last week’s 97-yarder to Penn State’s Saquon Barkley to open the game. The Hawkeyes are sixth in the conference in kickoff returns (22.0 ypr), so this could be one way they can try and control field position and help set up the offense.
2. Iowa's running game vs. Ohio State's run defense
The Hawkeyes’ Akrum Wadley is having a solid season, currently ranking sixth in the Big Ten with 643 rushing yards and tied for fourth with eight total touchdowns. Despite a few big plays by Barkley (namely on the kickoff return), the Buckeyes held Penn State to just 91 rushing yards on 35 carries (2.6 ypc), last week. While quarterback Nathan Stanley has been an efficient passer (17 TDs, 4 INTs) for Iowa, he’s not a prolific one (212.9 ypg), so the Hawkeyes will have to find a way to move the ball on the ground against an Ohio State defense that ranks 10th in the country against the run (107.3 ypg).
3. Hangover effect for Ohio State?
Iowa has shattered the dreams of other teams who have come into Kinnick Stadium throughout the years. As was referenced earlier, the Buckeyes played sloppily for most of the game against Penn State, yet were still able to rally for victory. Now, the Ohio State coaches have to be concerned about the players still enjoying the euphoria of that victory, instead of the task at hand. Meyer and his assistants will be sure to point out that the Hawkeyes shouldn’t be taken lightly, especially at home, with Exhibit A being how Iowa nearly knocked off Penn State back on Sept. 24.
The recipe is there for an upset. Iowa has a history of knocking off higher-ranked teams at home, the Hawkeyes will be wearing special uniforms, and Ohio State is coming off of a physically and emotionally draining win that may have the Buckeyes playing sluggishly. On the other hand, Ohio State seems to be coming into November with momentum, playing well on both sides of the ball. If the Buckeyes’ special teams issues show up again, this game could be closer than anticipated, but look for Ohio State to pull away in the second half.
Prediction: Ohio State 35, Iowa 17
(Top photo courtesy of Iowa Hawkeyes Facebook page)