Plenty to Watch for in Buffalo Matchup

As I write this week's column, I honestly don't have a lot to say about Saturday's game against the Buffalo. But here is what I do know: Iowa should/will have its way with the Bulls.

The Iowa players and coaches were saying all the right things this week. "We are not looking ahead to Iowa State. We know that Buffalo will want to come in and beat us. We are just taking it one week at a time."

Despite those sweet nothings, you can't help but look ahead. Iowa could come out dogging it and still hammer Buffalo by 42 points.

The MAC's Bulls come in sporting an 11-game losing streak following a 24-10 defeat at the hands of Rutgers last Saturday. CBS.Sportsline.com ranked Buffalo the 117th best team in Division I-A this week -- wait, there are only 117 Division I-A teams.

Buffalo struggles big time on offense. The Bulls averaged just 17.1 points per game last season. Quarterback Randall Secky (as in sucky) completed just 48 percent of his passes last season. Against stalwart Rutgers, Secky completed only 7 of 20 for 60 yards.

The option attack did net Buffalo 220 yards on 42 carries for a decent average of 5.3 yards/carry last week. Dan Dawson was the feature back after playing second fiddle to Aaron Leeper last year. The two backs will likely split time against Iowa.

As I said before, this game this game will be nothing more than a scrimmage against someone other than yourself. It gives the coaches a chance to further evaluate and instruct the players using live competition and game film. They won't be too concerned with the overall winning margin, although even the coaches have to expect a blowout.

One point of interest for coaches and fans alike will be the performance of safety Chris Smith, who will play in place of Bob Sanders for at least the next 3-4 weeks. Now it's Smith's time to shine and pick up the slack left behind by the "Hammer." A backup to Smith will also need to surface and it's likely to come in the person of redshirt freshman Marcus Paschal.

Sanders is a big loss, but he just one player on a team that is very much built on team defense. I like Iowa to the tune of 55-7 over Buffalo.

Miami Rewind

It's hard to imagine that Iowa has gotten back to the point where a 21-3 win brings grumblings, particularly with where the Hawks were just a few years ago.

The Miami game did a few things for me:

  • This defensive unit will be in the top two or three in the Big Ten.
  • The front four didn't get much pressure in the first half against (former) Heisman candidate Ben Roethlisberger, but the second half they got after it and pressured Roethlisberger from the word go.
  • They also continued to stop the running game by limiting the RedHawks to just 62 yards on the day.
  • The secondary appears to be much improved. The corners were allowing a lot of cushion on coverage early in the first half but tackled very well once the receiver caught the ball and did not allow any pass play to go for more than 26 yards. Following that opening drive which led to a Miami's only three points of the day, the coverage got tighter and the completions went for three or four yards.

    The secondary also picked off four passes, two by Jovon Johnson. The first pick by Johnson was a gift as Roethlisberger was attempting to throw the ball out-of-bound but instead found Johnson who returned to the Miami 1-yard line. The play came about because Jared Clauss was breathing down the neck of Roethlisberger. Smith had a gem of an interception making a diving catch on a ball that appeared headed for a touchdown. Sean Considine made a leaping interception and Johnson made his second pick in the end zone on a jump ball situation.

    Despite being just 5-foot-8, Johnson has some hops. And it seemed like Iowa's secondary has good team speed -- in fact, the entire defense as whole has tremendous closing speed. Iowa rattled Roethlisberger with relentless pressure and good coverage on the receivers, something that we didn't have against Miami last year.

  • Offensively, Nathan Chandler did exactly what he is asked to do: Be efficient and don't lose the game. I was impressed with Chandler's mobility in escaping the rush. He won't be mistaken for Fran Tarkenton, but he is not a stiff, as Kirk Ferentz likes to say. He was efficient throwing the ball, 12-19 for 124 yards and two touchdowns. The TD to Maurice Brown was terrific as Chandler looked off two receivers, stayed composed, and found Brown who had broken free.

    I still have a concern with Chandler's arm strength and was certainly left scratching my head after seeing Chandler under throw Brown by three yards on a 15-yard pass.

  • Iowa will need to avoid third and longs – say, anything over four yards.
  • The fumble by Chandler was disheartening, but he will learn to tuck the ball up much quicker next time. This is a guy who has played very little football the past year and a half.
  • Fred Russell was what we expected. I though Russell found the holes quicker than last year, ran ahead more instead of dancing. Russell did run for well over 100 yards but 60 percent or so of those yards came on two carries.
  • The main complaint I had with the offense was the lack of running plays that went left. Of course, we all know that Robert Gallery is on the left side and is Iowa's best lineman. Both of Russell's long gains came on runs to the left side with nearly every other run to my recollection going up the middle or right. I presume that was by design to check the progress of Brian Ferentz, Pete McMahon and the other newcomers. The zone-blocking scheme takes time to get down, especially with four new starters and the Miami game gave us hope down the road. Certainly the entire line as a group will be watched very closely this week.

    Iowa fans should remind themselves that the Hawks beat a good football with an offensive plan similar to that which seventh graders learn on Day One right after learning how to insert the butt pad into their girdles. Anytime you can win with a simple plan and execute without being seriously threatened by the opponent, it is a good thing.

    Big, big games lurk ahead for the Hawkeyes. So, Iowa fans, fasten your seat belts because things speed up from here on out.


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