IOWA CITY – Another tough test awaits the Hawkeyes in week 10.
For the first time in seven years, the Hawkeyes will meet the Ohio State Buckeyes on the gridiron of Kinnick Stadium. The Buckeyes again look like one of the two best teams in the Big Ten as they continue to build on the impressive era of head coach Urban Meyer.
Fresh off their improbable come-from-behind victory over then-No. 2 Penn State, the Buckeyes have put themselves back in the driver’s seat as they push for a Big Ten East Division Championship and a potential return to the College Football Playoff.
The lone blemish on the schedule is a 31-16 defeat to Oklahoma in week two. The Sooners currently sit at No. 5 in the College Football Playoff rankings.
It’s hard to find an area where the Hawkeyes would have the upper hand this weekend. Home field advantage has traditionally been kind to the Hawkeyes, and they’ve taken down three of the last four top 10 teams that have played in Iowa City. (The Buckeyes are ranked No. 3 in the AP poll and No. 6 in the College Football Playoff rankings.)
Defense has been the strongest asset for the Hawkeyes this season, and it will have to be again on Saturday if they want to pull off the upset. The Buckeyes rack up the second-most yards of any team in the country, averaging 571.3 yards per game and 46.3 points per game.
Iowa boasts the 12th-best scoring defense in the country, allowing just 17.4 points per game. Bend, don’t break. That has to be the mantra again on Saturday.
One miscellaneous stat that could help the Hawkeyes is the start time. With a 2:30pm kick, Kinnick will likely be close to dark by the time the fourth quarter comes around. While not a “night game,” the aura may help the Hawkeyes if they keep it close.
While the Buckeyes excel in seemingly every category, I’ve highlighted three players or groups that fans need to watch on Saturday. Game time for the Blackout game is set for 2:30pm CST on ESPN.
Barrett’s Final Act
After the home loss to Oklahoma in week two, Heisman hopes for Buckeye quarterback J.T. Barrett seemed to have dashed.
After leading the comeback over Penn State last week, Barrett is more than back in the conversation.
Barrett completed 33 of his 39 passes on Saturday, including his last 16 and all 13 in the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes trailed by as many as 18, but Barrett led them to a 39-38 victory.
The senior QB ranks first in the Big Ten with 270.8 passing yards per game and a 69.5 percent completion percentage. Barrett has rushed for 454 yards this season, helping him account for a Big Ten best 327.5 total yards of offense per game.
How can the Hawkeyes stop him? Even they might not be sure. A dual-threat has to be accounted for at all times, usually the job of a linebacker. Barrett will keep the senior linebacker trio of Josey Jewell, Ben Niemann, and Bo Bower busy on Saturday. If they lose sight of him he’ll be picking up first downs with his feet.
A four-year starter at Ohio State, Barrett has never played the Hawkeyes. While it won’t be a Heisman moment to take down a 5-3 Iowa team, a road win at Kinnick could surely boost his newly reemerged Heisman candidacy.
Zone 6 Plus 2
Barrett and the Buckeyes trot out the 11th-best passing offense in the nation, averaging 326.9 yards per game. Most impressively, they spread the wealth as well as any team in the nation.
The receiving core of the Buckeyes, known as “Zone 6,” consists of six pass catchers who have at least 13 receptions and at least two receiving touchdowns.
Parris Campbell, K.J. Hill, Austin Mack, Binjimen Victor, Terry McLaurin, and Johnnie Dixon make up Zone 6. Hill paces the group with 40 catches this season, Campbell leads with 410 yards, and Dixon has found the end zone a team-high six times. A seventh receiver, walk-on C.J. Saunders, has contributed 14 catches for 196 yards.
The Buckeyes offense doesn’t stop there. True freshman running back J.K. Dobbins (jersey No. 2) is one of the best runners in the conference. Dobbins is second in the Big Ten with 863 yards rushing, averaging 107.9 yards per game.
Dobbins’ game features a jump cut that might be the second-best in the conference, behind Akrum Wadley’s, of course. The slippery back has caused defenses trouble all season. The Hawkeyes will have to contain.
Iowa’s secondary is still shaky as well. Manny Rugamba has not played to his highest potential this season, and safeties Jake Gervase and Amani Hooker are still working to find their groove. The defense has played well up to this point in the season, but the Buckeyes present the biggest challenge yet.
Beware the “Rushmen”
Remember when I said the Buckeyes excel in nearly every facet of the game? Yeah, that includes defense, too.
Ohio State’s defense ranks second nationally with 8.9 tackles for loss per game. The Buckeyes allow 107.3 rushing yards per game, 12th-best nationally.
Ohio State’s defensive prowess begins with the defensive line. Six different players have started at least five games for the Buckeyes, and as many as 13 players are on their way to lettering this season. Four defensive ends known as the “Rushmen” lead the group.
Nick Bosa, a midseason All-American, leads the team and is second in the Big Ten with 10 tackles for loss (38 yards). He has also ranked up four sacks. Tyquan Lewis, the reigning Big Ten defensive lineman of the year has contributed five tackles for loss (31 yards), 3.5 sacks, and two pass break ups.
Sam Hubbard leads the group with 23 tackles on the season. He has 6.5 tackles for loss (26 yards) and two sacks. Jalyn Holmes has recorded 16 tackles, two tackles for loss (nine yards), and one sack.
The Hawkeyes are a run-first team, always have been, always will be. With two freshmen tackles in Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs, the running game may be in for a rude awakening this Saturday.
Ohio State will key on Wadley, which is something the Hawkeyes have dealt with before, but this rushing defense is a little better than others. If Wadley can’t find his way out of the backfield, the Hawkeyes are going to have a hard time pulling off the upset.