IOWA CITY, Iowa – It’s fun to focus on Indiana’s high-powered offense facing Iowa’s stingy defense on Saturday. The Hawkeyes understand that it extends beyond the obvious.
Iowa’s offense, defense and special teams have complemented each other well through its 8-0 start. The Hawkeyes (4-0 Big Ten) expected that to continue if they wanted to find success in Bloomington.
Maryland Coach Mike Locksley pointed to Iowa’s controlling of the tempo and pace as the reason his team fell behind by three touchdowns at halftime in an eventual 31-15 loss last Saturday. The Terrapins managed just 23 offensive plays before the intermission due, in large part, to the Hawkeyes’ ability to possess the ball.
It’s a formula that can aid Iowa on Saturday when it faces a Hoosier team averaging 33.1 points per game. The Hawkeye offense can help the defense by keeping the Indiana offense on the sideline.
“That’s our goal every game just as an offense is to win that time of possession battle, have big drives, you know, six-, seven-, eight-minute drives, a lot of plays,” Iowa Center Austin Blythe said.
The Hoosiers (4-4 overall, 0-4 Big Ten) are averaging 78 offensive plays a game. They rank first in the Big Ten and 27th with 467.6 yards per contest. They’re tops in passing (287.0) and fifth in rushing (180.6).
“They’re a well-rounded offense. They’re a good team so we’re going to have to be ready,” Iowa Linebacker Ben Niemann said. “We can’t just defend the run or the pass. We’ve got to be ready for both.”
Jordan Howard (136-787, 5 touchdowns), a transfer from UAB, has stepped in admirably for Tevin Coleman, who rushed 15 times for 219 yards and three touchdowns against the Hawkeyes last season. The scoring runs were from 83, 45 and 69 yards.
Quarterback Nate Sudfeld suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in last year’s game in Iowa City. He has bounced back to complete 142 of 226 passes for 2,049 yards and 14 touchdowns against four interceptions this fall. Receiver Ricky Jones (37 catches, 669 yard, 5 touchdowns) has emerged as his favorite target.
“It’s going to be a real challenge for us. They’re very, very productive offensively,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They’re very balanced. Do a nice job running and throwing. High tempo with really good players. I think one of the better offensive lines in the Big Ten from my vantage point.”
Indiana’s defense falls well short of its offensive production. The unit is allowing an astonishing 37.2 points per game, including 55 and 52 in its last two games against Rutgers and Michigan State, respectively.
The Hoosiers have been opportunistic on defense. They’ve come up with 14 turnovers leading to 65 points and sacked opposing quarterbacks 21 times.
“They’re a very aggressive unit with a lot of different looks and different pressures, certainly not bashful about playing aggressively. So we’ve got to really be sharp and alert on that side of the football,” Ferentz said.
Indiana is coming off a bye week, which allowed Howard, Sudfeld and others on the team to heal some nagging injuries. It has a chance to knock off the country’s ninth-ranked team for its first Big Ten win of the season. The Hawkeyes are allowing just 15.2 points per game.
“They’re very sound,” Sudfeld said. “Iowa is a very good team. Historically, they’ve been very well coached. They do their jobs and they do them well. So, we’re going to have to be on our Ps and Qs and have to make sure we make competitive plays because they’re going to be contesting a lot of our throws and our runs.
“We’re going to have to bring our A game as an offense. It’s a challenge we look forward to and expect to do well in.”
Time, TV, Announcers: 2:30 p.m. CT on ESPN with Mike Patrick, Ed Cunningham and Dr. Jerry Punch.
The Series: Iowa leads 43-28-4 after knocking off the Hoosiers, 45-29, last season in Iowa City.
Betting Line: Iowa opened as a 7-point favorite Sunday at Wynn Las Vegas. The number dropped to 6 within a few hours and settled in at 6.5 by Wednesday.
-Indiana is 3-8-2 Against the Spread in its last 13 conference games.
-Iowa is12-3 ATS in its last 15 road games.
Match-up to Watch: The Hoosiers rank 12th among conference teams in rushing defense (166.5 YPG) and 11th in touchdowns allowed on the ground (17). That plays into Iowa’s hands.
While Jordan Canzeri (ankle) looks to be sidelined for another week, LeShun Daniels ran with pep in his step once again last week against Maryland. He teamed with Akrum Wadley and Derrick Mitchell Jr. in helping keep the ball away from the Terrapins high-scoring offense.
The Hawkeyes sit at second in the Big Ten in rushing offense (201.4 YPG) and touchdowns on the ground (21). They have eight scores via the run in the last two games.
So, what am I driving at here? As dangerous as the Hoosiers are on offense, it’s a good matchup for Iowa against a team that has struggled to stop its bread and butter. If the Hawkeyes keep on running, they’ll maintain an unblemished record.
Take Note: The Hawkeyes have 24 sacks, fifth best in the conference. Indiana has allowed the fewest sacks in the Big Ten (10).
Take Note, Take Two: The Hawkeyes are the only team in the country to allow just one rushing touchdown. Iowa yields an average of 85.8 rushing yards per game, second best in the Big Ten and fifth nationally, limits its opponents to 2.8 yards per carry — fifth best in the country and has held six of eight opponents to under 100 yards rushing.
Non-Sports Related: According to Lumosity, Bloomington is ranked as the 7th smartest city in America.
Did You Know?: Bloomington is home to Little 500, the largest collegiate bike race in America.
Did You Also Know?: Kilroy’s Sports Bar in Bloomington is one of the highest grossing bars in the nation, according to celebritynetworth.com. It’s the only bar in Indiana to make their top 100 list.
Indiana wins if…it stops Iowa’s rushing attack.
Iowa wins if…it continues to run the ball effectively.
Overview: Sure, this is a scary game for Iowa. Indiana can boast playing strong games against unbeaten Ohio State and Michigan State, and as I’ve mentioned, it’s a dangerous offense.
Having said that, the Hoosiers didn’t beat the Buckeyes or Spartans and wilted down the stretch of both games. It resulted from a defense that hasn’t shown it can stop the opponent for 60 minutes.
In four conference games, Indiana has allowed 42.5 points, 194.5 rushing yards and 3.0 touchdowns on the ground per game. It’s also lost the time of possession battle by an average of 33:51-26:09 in Big Ten play.
Perhaps the Hoosiers figured it out during the bye week. More likely, they didn’t.
This is the same group that allowed Rutgers to score 55 points on it in Bloomington. It might do well in the Big 12 but it’s not a style that works well against the top teams in this league, which Iowa is.
PREDICTION: Iowa 38, Indiana 31.