Iowa CITY, Ia. - Tino Sunseri will like what he sees from the Iowa film this week. The Pittsburgh quarterback should spot a lot of available opportunities for the Panthers, who play in Iowa City on Saturday.
Hawkeye Coach Kirk Ferentz and several of his defensive players downplayed their history of struggling against mobile quarterbacks. Unfortunately for Iowa, the proof has been in the pudding.
It's not a mirage that elusive signal callers like Seneca Wallace, Antwaan Randle El, Terrelle Pryor, Dan Persa, Juice Williams, Denard Robinson, Troy Smith, Bret Meyer, Kellen Lewis and Brett Basanez find success against the Hawkeyes. To that list you can add Iowa State's Steele Jantz, who carved up the Iowa defense on Saturday in a 44-41 Cyclone win in triple overtime.
Iowa will face another quarterback who can make plays with his feet in Sunseri. He engineers a multiple no-huddle attack under first-year Panthers head coach Todd Graham.
"I think there's definitely too much made out of it," Iowa Safety Micah Hyde said. "The quarterbacks that we've faced, they're good quarterbacks. They're doing what they have to do to win.
"I don't think it's the spread offense. We've shown we can stop that."
Iowa has displayed an ability to neutralize spread offenses. The Hawkeyes did it against Missouri in last year's Insight Bowl. They shut down Texas Tech in the 2001 Alamo Bowl. There have been other times.
The difference in those examples was the style of quarterback. Blaine Gabbert and Kliff Kingsbury weren't dual-threat quarterbacks. They beat you with their arms for the most part.
The above-mentioned quarterbacks, and others that I've probably forgot, kept plays alive with their feet. Then, as anarchy breaks loose, they found receivers down field.
"I don't think the phrase "built to stop a certain type of quarterback" is necessarily appropriate in a situation like this," Iowa Middle Linebacker James Morris said. "Like I tell people, football is about blocking and tackling. Steele was breaking tackles and we were failing to get off blocks. If we can take care of that, I don't think it's going to matter if it's a running quarterback or not."
That certainly will help. It's also a lot easier to talk about than executing it with Iowa's base 4-3 and tendency to stay away from blitzing. Asking a four-man rush to chase down a mobile quarterback and linebackers to stay on receivers while that happens is a tall request.
"It starts with contain," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "You have to keep the ball inside. That's rule No. 1 on defense.
"We didn't do that well at times (against Iowa State). Until you do that, it's going to be tough."
Jantz would roll out to one side of the field before reversing the action back the other way.
"You have to stay on the upfield shoulder," Ferentz said of those occasions. "That's what contain is all about. If you let the offensive guys get outside, it puts people in a real tough position."
Again, that's a lot to ask when a play goes on and on and on. When you add up a lot of those instances, you're defense gets exhausted even when the players are young and in prime condition. There's a cumulative effect.
Iowa lost three starters to the NFL from last year's defensive line. Those guys were gassed chasing around Persa in a loss a season ago at Northwestern.
The Hawkeyes have become more athletic at linebacker. Morris in the middle, Christian Kirksey at the WILL and Tyler Nielsen at the LEO have joined forces to be Iowa's most nibble trio in Ferentz's 12 plus seasons.
While that will help versus a spread with a more stationary quarterback, it still appeared unlikely that was going to be enough against a guy like Jantz. He and wide receiver Josh Lenz picked on Kirksey with crossing routes through the second level.
"I tip my hat to him," Kirksey said. "He was good on his feet. He always seemed to find somebody open. We just have to make sure we play good against quarterbacks like that later in the season."
That starts this week with Sunseri, who has rushed eight times for 57 yards this season if you take out sacks. On a positive note for the Hawkeyes, the Panthers are allowing 4.5 sacks per game, including seven last week against FCS Maine.
Hyde said Iowa only had one tape on Jantz, a junior college transfer. It came from Week 1, when the California native played sloppy for three quarters before piloting his team to a 20-19 win against Northern Iowa.
"He clearly took a huge step today," Ferentz said on Saturday. "We didn't have an answer for him, run or pass."
The Hawkeyes need to find one.