It is that time folks, the 102nd Rose Bowl Game. It'll feature the Iowa Hawkeyes for the first time in 25 years and it'll feature the Stanford Cardinal for the third time in four years. The experience and comfortability edge goes to the Pac-12 in this one and Iowa will be behind the 8-ball in that category just as it was against Michigan State in the Big Ten Title Game. And as everyone saw in that game, it played little to no role so I don't expect that to come into play at the Rose Bowl either.
What could come into play is a bit of rust. Both teams haven't played in a few weeks. The last time they practiced this long without having a game was before the season during Fall camp. Iowa responded with a win in the opener over Illinois State and Stanford came out asleep against Northwestern on the road, losing 16-6.
How will this game go? A lot of people expect another slugfest like the one we saw in Indianapolis. I'm a little hesitant on that. Josh Garnett of Stanford is a heck of an offensive lineman but as a group they haven't been as punishing as they typically are. Their defense is for real. Those linebackers will be the best group the Hawkeyes have seen this year. Blake Martinez is the real deal. Kevin Andersen is the real deal.
Iowa's defense has a chance to win the line of scrimmage but they'll be playing in their 14th game of the year. We'll see if the rest did its jost because the Hawkeye defensive front was wore down by the end of the season. A few guys have snap counts that are unbelievably high, specifically Jaleel Johnson and Nathan Bazata. They need those two at their best. Containing Christian McCaffrey is obviously an item of complete performance. He'll inevitably bust one or two, and he'll get his yards, but Iowa can't allow him to take over. If they keep him at 150 or less, I like their chances defensively.
Offensively, Iowa has a great offensive line and I think they can win the war in the trenches and against the Stanford defensive line but it'll be tough to do damage at the second level. The Hawkeyes have reeled off their explosive plays by destroying the line of scrimmage and getting to that second level and delivering another blow to the defense. That'll be tough to do against the Cardinal. The explosive plays are going to be hard to come by against Stanford. A little ball control could go a long way. Iowa should not have a problem with that kind of style.
Stanford's secondary has been exposed at different times throughout the season. Much of that was due to the health of their back end. It appears as if they got their guys back. I would test them early though just to see how healthy they truly are and if they're back in sync. If not, it could be an area for Greg Davis and the Iowa offense to attack.
Special teams is usually an oversight from me. It's important but not worth spending too much time talking about in a preview. For this one, it is. The Rose Bowl pits Christian McCaffrey and Desmond King as returners. Both can take it to the house at any given time. A big play from either side could decide this game with it expected to be as close as it is, at least in my opinion.
I've seen some predictions say Iowa can win even if it doesn't contain Christian McCaffrey. I disagree with that. Stanford has not won because of Kevin Hogan this year, or their wideouts. They've won because McCaffrey is sensational. Now he's too good to completely corral altogether and hold to 30 yards. And between receiving, returning, and rushing, he's going to get some yards. But you can't allow him to completely blow up. I don't think he does in this one. I think Iowa defense does enough to stop him enough. You make Kevin Hogan beat you and live with what happens.
Offensively, using ball control to keep Stanford and McCaffrey off the field is a sound strategy. It is a strategy that is right up their alley too. They don't have to change a thing about what they have to do. This is a game Iowa can win.
But I don't think they do. I said they do enough to stop McCaffrey but I think he gets away late at least once and that's the difference in the game.
HAWK TO ROCK...
It might take something unconventional for Iowa to get the win, or at least some improvisation and turning big plays out of nothing. Who's usually responsible for that? Quarterback C.J. Beathard. If he can turn the tide a few times and turn some negative plays into net positives, and come up with a few big plays in critical moments, that's what the Hawkeyes need. It would be him from the offensive end.
Defensively, the defensive tackles have to play fresh and they have to be active the whole game. You have to beat Stanford up front to win. Jaleel Johnson and Nathan Bazata have both been great this year but the lack of depth inside has caused them to not be as productive in different points of the game. That can't happen today. If those two come out and dominate for the full four quarters, Iowa wins.