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Iowa Preview

What is left to play for? Pride? If we had played for pride we wouldn’t be in this situation. The seniors? It’s hard to play for the seniors when one in particular, be it fairly or unfairly, is a main reason we are in this situation. The future? Because of recent failures in recruiting even the immediate future doesn’t look bright. The bucket game in a week is obviously much more important, so why should we even bother making the trip to Iowa City this week?

On paper this game looks ugly. The defense is due to get gashed by one of the great running backs in the Big Ten after doing a great job on Chris Wells and Javon Ringer. The offense regressed has regressed again. Iowa is coming off an upset of the #3 team in the country. They aren’t ranked, but they may deserve it. We haven’t beaten a ranked team in 19 tries and if you take away the neutral site of the Motor City Bowl we have lost seven straight games away from Ross-Ade stadium dating back to last year’s win at Minnesota. Kinnick Stadium has also been a house of horrors for us with no victory since 1992.

Why then, am I going to go out of my way to find a place near the beach with the Big Ten Network on satellite? Am I a masochist? Am I insane? Possibly, on both accounts. We now face two choices: we can go out and fight to the end for our seniors and our coach who has done more for the university than many give him credit for, or we can roll over and die. Saturday is the first step toward 2009. Let’s make it a good one.

Iowa Offense:

Iowa engineered its upset of Penn State last week with a simple formula Shonn Greene provided a bruising running game that made the hard yards. Ricky Stanzi made few mistakes while directing a clutch game-winning drive. Finally, the Iowa defense held one of the most powerful offenses in the country to field goals instead of touchdowns. Unlike Purdue against Oregon, Iowa’s offense gave their kicker much better position for the game-winning attempt and he was able to bang it home.

The fourth quarter has been Iowa’s all season long. The Hawkeyes have scored 286 points on the season, and 101 have come in the final period. Even in losses to Michigan State, Northwestern, and Pittsburgh the Hawkeyes made a furious comeback that fell just short. In reality, they aren’t hat far from being 10-0 right now, as all four losses were by less than a touchdown. We might be able to get a lead against them if the offense is moving, but this team will make it a fight at the end regardless of the score.

Last week we knew we were facing a great running back in Javon Ringer that responsible for the bulk of the Spartan offense. That will help for this week because Shonn Greene means the same to Iowa. Greene has been over 100 yards in all ten games this season. His total yardage is 1,374 with 13 touchdowns. He isn’t quite the scoring machine that Ringer is, but he is just as dangerous everywhere else. Unlike Ringer, Greene has significant help in the form of former Warren Central running back Jewel Hampton. The freshman certainly likes playing in his home state since the bulk of his 329 yards and five touchdowns came earlier in the season against the Hoosiers.

At quarterback Stanzi hasn’t been terrible, but he hasn’t put up playstation numbers either. With a completion percentage just above 59% he is efficient, but he has only thrown for 1,482 yards and 10 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Former starter Jake Christensen has a pair of starts on the year while appearing in four more games. He has added another 390 yards and two touchdowns to the passing game. We will see Stanzi start. He is more of a threat to run than Brian Hoyer last week, but not by much. Iowa clearly relies on its passing game to compliment Greene.

Iowa doesn’t necessarily have a go-to receiver the likes of Minnesota’s Eric Decker, but Stanzi does have three reliable options to throw to. Derrell Johnson-Koilianos (33-414-2), Andy Brodell (28-460-4), and Brandon Myers (26-346-3) all have very similar numbers. This makes Iowa’s passing game even more dangerous because we don’t have just one guy to shut down. They aren’t as bad as Penn state’s very good trio, but they are still pretty good. If they are getting their normal work it will open up the field even more for Greene to run.

One area where we can make a difference is by creating pressure on Stanzi when he does throw. The Iowa offensive line isn’t the brick wall of protection it has been in the past. Teams have gotten to the Iowa quarterback for 23 sacks. In addition to nine interceptions the Hawkeyes have lost 10 fumbles on the year. They have been somewhat generous with the ball, but that means nothing unless we can do something with it. Michigan State handed us four turnovers last week and we did nothing with any of them save the final interception. Even then it took 9 minutes to score.

Iowa Defense:

Two years ago the Iowa defensive line had its way with us in our last visit to Iowa City. With the outside chance of a New Year’s Day Bowl on the line I expect the same to happen again. Iowa gives up little more than 100 yards per game on the ground. The defense as a whole is pretty good, having only given up 13 touchdowns on the year. Penn State found this out the hard way last week when it had to settle for three field goals on some pretty deep penetrations into Hawkeye territory.

The pass defense is especially good, having spread 17 interceptions around to nine different players. Part of these numbers may be slanted some by opening season blowouts against Maine and Florida International, but the numbers haven’t exactly skewed dramatically by playing better competition. Iowa’s defense as a whole has kept it in many games waiting for that fourth quarter offense to show up, as was the case Saturday night in the Penn State upset. This is not a good sign for our own struggling offense.

Pan Angerer has put up solid all-around numbers in leading this defense. He leads the team in tackles (83) and interceptions (4) as the next great Iowa linebacker. I don’t know if he is necessarily channeling Chad Greenway, but the dude is still pretty good. Ten players on the Iowa defense have notched 40 or more tackles. In addition to the widespread interception bug, nine players have notched at least one quarterback sack. This defense seems to swarm by committee. It’s job is to keep teams form scoring points, and they do it very well. Statistically they are one of the better defenses in the Big Ten. Very few teams have scored at will against them.

Mitch King loves to cause disruptions in the backfield as the team’s leader in sacks with three and tackles for loss with 11.5. Amari Spivey has also done a little bit of everything with 52 tackles, a sack, and three interceptions. Bradley Fletcher, Spivey mate in the defensive backfield, is very effective against the pass with 18 pass break ups and two interceptions. This backfield will be very hard to throw against and Siller will be facing pressure. It will be a good test in his learning process, but it could also be a painful one.

Essentially, this defense is pretty good against the run, but somewhat weaker against the pass. This is not good since we have only been able to move the ball on the ground lately and our passing game has been awful except against Michigan. I am having trouble seeing how we can consistently move the ball, especially after the high number of dropped passes a week ago. Five over the course of a game is not bad, but they are especially dangerous when they happen on key plays when the game is still close.

Iowa Special Teams:

The Hawkeyes are a bit odd in that they like to employ a dual kicker attack. Freshman Trent Mossbrucker from nearby Mooresville has performed most of the duties admirably. He’s 13 of 15 on the season with a long of 39 yards. He has also handled most of the PAT’s in going 24 for 24 in that area. Daniel Murray isn’t used as much, but he is 9 for 9 on PAT’s and 2 for 4 on field goals. One of those two made field goals was last week’s 31 yard game winner. Murray has also attempted both attempts beyond 40 yards that Iowa has tried.

Ryan Donahue handles the punting duties at a 41.6 yard per kick average. Opponents are only averaging 5.5 yards per return against him, so we can forget about a long return here. We must guard against a long return though, as Andy Brodell is one of the conference’s more dangerous punt returners. He averages nearly 11 yards per return and already has an 81 yard scoring run in the return game. It remains frustrating how we continue to get nothing from our own punt return game, yet give up returns with ease.

Jewel Hampton handles most of the kickoff return duties, but if we don’t score much we won’t be kicking off anyway. He and Johnson-Koulianos average more than 20 yards per return.

Final Thoughts:

This game boils down to how we approach it. If we come in merely wanting to end the season as quickly as possible we are going to get annihilated by a very motivated Iowa team. If we come in wanting to build momentum for the future we may have a small chance at getting a pretty good win. It won’t mean anything this year, but in the long run the program can be helped by going on the road and knocking off a good team. The last good road win we had was probably Penn State in 2004, and even that Nittany Lion team finished with a losing record.

Many of the keys from last week’s win remain the same. We have to at least contain Greene and force Stanzi to throw. We also must get something going on offense early. We can’t afford to fall behind, but Iowa’s defense on paper looks to be much tougher. Our offensive line must turn in a better performance and give Siller time to throw or time to scramble. He had neither last week.

Unfortunately, I don’t have much confidence that the offense will be able to do anything against a good defense. Even I am not too excited about this game. Mentally, I have already moved on to basketball season and I am merely waiting to get the Bucket back next week before putting the ugly 2008 season away. I’ave actually thought more this week about what kind of Tribute I will write next week for the seniors and coach Tiller. I think this team may be focused on the Bucket game right now as well, which isn’t a bad thing. It is far, far more important for us to beat the Hoosiers than to grab what is a meaningless win over the Hawkeyes. This game is critical for the development of players like Justin Siller, Chris Carlino, Ken Plue, and other freshman who have played important minutes for us this year. They will be the ones playing in future bowl games. They still have a lot to learn, but they can learn in a hurry this week. Iowa 27, Purdue 10

Other Big Ten picks:

In lieu of a full Big Ten preview this week I'll just do some quick picks on the other four games. Most of them aren't that exciting as we wait for the big Michigan State-Penn State game.
The Spartans are off this week, so they have planty of time to prepare. Penn State is just virtually off this week.

Penn State 45, Indiana 7 - Welcome to a no way in hell game. Of course, I'm just a blogger, not a real journalist. What do I know?

Michigan 24, Northwestern 23 - That looked like a mojo-turning game int he dome last week.

Wisconsin 17, Minnesota 13 - Minnesota's offense is awful right now. The only wint hey have int he last three weeks was because our offense is worse.

Ohio State 23, Illinois 7 - Ohio State had "the look" last week. Where was it against USC and Penn State?