Iowa pass offense vs. Miami pass defense: Like most Hawkeye fans, I have plenty of confidence in Iowa's receivers — Mo Brown and Ed Hinkel — but there are question marks surrounding new QB Nathan Chandler. It sure didn't sound like he was tearing it up during the preseason workouts and practices. All of that stuff is out the window now, however. Some guys simply play better on game days than they ever show in practice. True freshman Drew Tate may see action at quarterback for the Hawks, as well. The RedHawks had a poor pass defense in 2002, allowing 273 yards per game in the air. They return three starting defensive backs (Alphonso Hodge, Ryan Sprague and Matt Pusateri). I expect Chandler to finish about 11-for-21 for 125 yards, with 2 TDs and 1 INT. Tate will be in the ballpark of 3-for-7 for 28 yards. The key for Iowa's passing attack will be to avoid turnovers or big losses on sacks. Advantage: IOWA.
Miami run offense vs. Iowa run defense: Last season, Miami ran for 14 yards on 17 carries against the Hawkeyes. Not REAL productive. Colin Cole and Fred Barr, who were both very strong against the run, are gone. But, seven starters are returning and that doesn't count a few guys who played a lot (Matt Roth, Jovon Johnson and Sean Considine) in 2002. Iowa's defensive line should be outstanding and I'm anxious to see how well Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway play at linebacker spots. The RedHawks have 1,000-yard rusher Luke Clemens back for his senior season. Not many plays on Saturday will make Clemens' highlight reel this year. Advantage: IOWA.
Miami pass offense vs. Iowa pass defense: The RedHawks have one of the top QBs in the nation in Ben Roethlisberger. The junior threw for 3,238 yards last season, including 357 against Iowa. He also tossed 22 TDs and only 11 interceptions. Four of his top six receivers return this season. On the other hand, the Hawkeyes' front four (Matt Roth, Jonathan Babineaux, Jared Clauss and Howard Hodges) combined for 32 sacks in 2002. Each of the RedHawk receivers will be listening for Bob Sanders' footsteps any time they approach the middle of the field. Can the RedHawks' experienced offensive line (four returning starters) protect Roethlisberger against Iowa's pass rush? If so, Miami is going to put some points on the board. If not, it could get ugly in a hurry. Advantage: PUSH.
Special Teams: The Hawkeyes had the best special teams play in the nation last season. What a turnaround from the early to mid-1990s when special teams were often a weakness for Iowa. With all due respect to Rob Houghtlin (the greatest "clutch" kicker in Iowa history), Nate Kaeding is the best kicker the Hawks have ever had. David Bradley had an under-rated season in 2002 (37.0 net average) and looks to improve. For Miami, Jared Parseghian has connected on 17 straight field goals and punter Mike Wafzig (41.7 average) returns. Both teams will feature new return specialists. Advantage: IOWA.
Coaching: Kirk Ferentz was the 2002 AP Coach of the Year. He led the Hawks to an 8-0 record in the Big Ten and an Orange Bowl appearance. Iowa has steadily improved under his leadership in the past four seasons. Hawk fans have to love his intensity, preparation, leadership and ability to stay focused until the final gun. Offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe takes a lot of criticism, but Iowa has scored at least 24 points in 23 of its last 28 games ... and the Hawks averaged 37.2 points per game in 2002. Defensive coordinator Norm Parker has done a tremendous job in Iowa City. His units always seem to make the right adjustments. Last season, Iowa allowed only 15.0 points per game over the final seven contests. Miami coach Terry Hoeppner is entering his fifth season and has a 27-19 career mark. He is 0-2 against Iowa and Ferentz. Hoeppner was NOT named the 2002 AP Coach of the Year. Advantage: IOWA.
Intangibles: The snowball effect could come into play. If Iowa's offensive line gains confidence in the first quarter that the Hawkeyes can run the ball consistently against the RedHawks, you might see Miami begin to gamble quite a bit on both sides of the ball, which could lead to big plays for Iowa. On the other hand, if the Hawkeyes are unable to pressure Roethlisberger into some quick decisions and hurried throws, it could put a lot of heat on Chandler and the offense to put more points on the board ... and quickly. If Chandler doesn't have a little success in the first quarter or faces an early deficit, I will worry about him trying to force the issue and turning it over. The crowd at Kinnick Stadium could be calling for Drew Tate, which would be awfully tough for Chandler to overcome. Another point worth noting is that Miami has nothing to lose in this game, which makes the talented RedHawks even more dangerous. Advantage: PUSH.
PREDICTION: Iowa's defense will rise to the occasion and put enough pressure on Roethlisberger to neutralize the RedHawks' passing attack. Roth and Clauss will have two sacks apiece. Sanders and Allen will each have an interception, with Sanders returning his for a TD. The Hawkeyes will win the turnover battle (by one) and their special teams will make at least one big play. Chandler will do a pretty good job of running the Iowa offense, which will be led by its tailbacks (Russell, Schnoor and Johnson). FINAL: IOWA 33, Miami 17.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)