Fresh off their 51-0 drubbing of Kent State, Iowa faces a legitimate challenge against Miami University this Saturday at Kinnick Stadium. The RedHawks faced Michigan last weekend and lost, 31-13, in a valiant effort. This figures to be a much closer battle than either game the two teams faced last week.
Since it's said that games are won and lost in the trenches, this preview will start with the upcoming matchups on the offensive and defensive lines. Iowa's offensive line, once again, is hurting. Tackle Ben Sobieski and guards Eric Steinbach and Alonzo Cunningham will probably miss Saturday's contest. Assuming Steinbach won't be ready to go Saturday, the starting lineup will feature Robert Gallery and Sam Aiello at the tackles, Andy Lightfoot and Kory Borchers at guards, and Bruce Nelson at center. The starting Miami defensive line recorded just 11 tackles against Michigan, none of which were sacks. Aside from 6-2, 327 gap-stuffer Ryan Terry, no other defensive lineman in the Miami 2-deep is 280 pounds or more. Iowa has a great opportunity to push around the (relatively) undersized RedHawks line and play the same hard-nosed style of offense that led to their dominating win last week. Iowa has a slight advantage in this aspect, and this advantage grows with any contributions from the 3 injured players.
On the other side of the line, Iowa may not have an advantage. Miami's offensive line is big, mean, and experienced. They average over 6-5 tall, and 302 pounds across the starting line. Jacob Bell, Phil Hawk, and Joe Costello started every game last year, and the entire line has combined for 63 starts now. The line only allowed 3 sacks for a total of 10 yards last week against the vaunted Michigan defense, so Iowa must blitz effectively to stop the RedHawk offense. Fortunately, Iowa's defensive line is up to the task. Aaron Kampman, Jerry Montgomery, Derrick Pickens, and Colin Cole combined to shut Kent State down up front, with the minimal blitzing that Norm Parker used. This promises to be a terrific battle, and if Iowa can gain a clear advantage here, the game ought to be a sizable victory for the Hawkeyes.
The quarterbacks for these two teams ought to have an intriguing battle. Ben Roethlisberger, a redshirt freshman who was offered by Ohio State, is a talented quarterback who put up ridiculous numbers in high school. In the no-huddle offense that Miami runs, backup QB Ryan Hawk is often on the field at the same time, and is also a threat at the receiver position, so the Hawkeye defense will have to do some more thinking on Saturday. Roethlisberger and Hawk combined to throw 22-44 against Michigan for 223 yards, certainly decent numbers. The Hawkeyes' two-headed monster of Kyle McCann and Brad Banks is equally as dangerous as the RedHawks's duo, as evidenced by the dominant performance last weekend. A 15-22 performance is certainly noteworthy, and both throwers were remarkably accurate, as two of the seven incompletions were drops. It's hard to say which team has better signal callers, but at this point, it seems like Iowa's are better throwers, and are not facing as difficult of a secondary.
The running back corps are similar for both teams, in that neither team's starting tailback had the dominant performance of the group last week. Miami's Steve Little was injured last week, and backup sophomore Luke Clemens rushed for 72 yards on Michigan's defense. Conversely, while Ladell Betts was one yard away from another 100-yard performance, backup Aaron Greving stole the show with 3 TD's on his first carries of his career. Combined with the impressive showings by fullback Jeremy Allen, and backup tailbacks Siaka Massaqoui and Fred Russell, Iowa easily has the better backfield. The Iowa backfield is already loaded for years to come.
The Miami linebacking corps is smaller than Iowa's, but just about as fast and dangerous. Terrell Jones, a sophomore MLB, led all true freshmen in tackles last year… and he only started the last 7 games. He recorded a ridiculous 23 tackles against Ohio last year, and ended up with 94 on the year. Standing only 5-9 and 220, he seems like what would happen if Bob Sanders had ended up in the MAC. OLB Matt Robillard led the team in tackles against Michigan with 13 last week. The other starting LB, Nathan Clayton, spent the off-season recovering from injury, and looks to be 100% this year. Iowa's linebackers were led in tackles in part by Matt Roth, and he didn't even play regularly until the 4th quarter. The other leader, Fred Barr, started the game, and will be joined by Grant Steen and Roger Meyer. Although it was difficult to gauge the talent of the Hawkeye linebackers by the Kent State game, the nod goes to the Hawks here due to their size and talent. If the defensive line can keep the Miami line off the linebackers, the Hawkeyes ought to be able to stuff the rushing attack well enough to keep Miami from lighting up the scoreboard.
Now for the most intriguing matchup of the game, which has got to be the Iowa secondary versus 6-6 Miami receiver Jason Branch. The only person in the secondary who has the size to compete with this guy is Aramis Haralson, and he's a backup. The other receiver, Eddie Tillitz, has decent speed but at 5-9 175, he isn't big enough to out-muscle any of the Hawkeyes for the ball. Miami's secondary returns 2 players with significant starting time, in cornerbacks Milt Bowen and Michael Adams. Bowen, at 6-2, matches up well with Kahlil Hill, and Michael Adams has the speed (10.43 100m) to hang with C.J. Jones. While the Hawkeyes had their way with the Kent State secondary last week, the Miami secondary had a disappointing day against the Wolverines, allowing over 200 yards on 20-34 passing, and 1 touchdown. Passing effectively is another key to the game for the Hawkeyes, and I don't see a clear edge in this aspect of the game either.
Lastly, the intangibles of this game absolutely favor Iowa. Iowa is rested after an easy win over KSU, while Miami is following up the emotional spike of a big game, and that usually results in a letdown. Furthermore, facing a team like Michigan (and losing by 18) probably means that Miami's a little beaten up physically as well as mentally. I like Iowa's defensive preparation, as they were able to shut down Northwestern's offense last year. Based on Iowa's team strength and speed, I have to give the Hawkeyes the advantage. I predict a 33-21 victory. See you at the game!