It will be strength vs. strength when the Hawkeyes run the ball as ASU has done a tremendous job against the run in its first two games. Although the Sun Devils' competition wasn't the greatest (Northern Arizona and Utah State), they have allowed an average of 63 yards per game on the ground…and an average of 1.8 yards per carry. I don't care WHO you're playing against, those are impressive numbers. Advantage: PUSH.
Iowa pass offense vs. ASU pass defense: Considering the leads that Iowa has been playing with in its first two games, it's not terribly clear yet just how good the Hawkeye passing attack is. Nathan Chandler has been asked to be a "defensive quarterback" so far: just DON'T turn the ball over. However, one of these Saturdays, Chandler is going to have to move the Iowa offense in a pressure-packed situation…in the second half of a game. It could be ASU that puts the senior QB to the test. Without Mo Brown, the Hawkeyes will be searching for someone ... ANYONE ... to step forward as a receiver. Iowa's leading pass-catcher who will line up against the Sun Devils has three catches right now. Not good. On the other hand, that gives the Hawks a lot of secret weapons, I guess.
ASU has given up plenty of yards in the air so far this season. In two games, the Sun Devils have given up 620 passing yards. A couple of things are worth noting, though. Number one, these teams couldn't run the ball against ASU, so they had to pass. And number two, the Sun Devils have four interceptions and 11 QB sacks in two games, so they aren't short of play-makers. Advantage: PUSH.
ASU run offense vs. Iowa run defense: The Sun Devils prefer to put the ball in the air, so their "ground-attack-by-committee" certainly doesn't get overworked. They've been efficient so far with redshirt freshman Loren Wade leading the way with 122 yards and a 4.9-yard average. Another redshirt freshman, Randy Hill, has totaled 90 yards on 18 attempts. Iowa City native Hakim Hill has gained 57 yards on 12 carries.
The Hawkeyes pride themselves on stopping the run and with linebackers Chad Greenway, Abdul Hodge and Grant Steen, they don't miss many chances to hit people. I swear that, on my way to work this week, I saw Greenway come out of nowhere to tackle a fourth-grader, who was on his way to school. Seriously…Greenway is EVERYWHERE. I think ASU will run sporadically on Saturday, but Iowa will be ready. Advantage: IOWA.
ASU pass offense vs. Iowa pass defense: This is the match-up that the Sun Devils must win — and maybe win decidedly — if they want to pick up a victory at Kinnick Stadium. ASU quarterback Andrew Walter is coming off of a tremendous sophomore season and has thrown for 501 yards in two games. Walter has completed 57% of his throws and has 6 TDs with only one interception. His QB rating is 155.5, which is excellent. His favorite receiver is Skyler Fulton, who has 13 receptions for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
The Hawkeyes played outstanding defense against another highly touted passer, Ben Roethlisberger, in their opener. Iowa's front four has surely been on Walter's mind this week, as Matt "The Tazmanian Devil" Roth, Jared Clauss, Howard Hodges and Jonathan Babineaux have made life very difficult for opposing QBs this season. Roth has three sacks to lead the Hawkeyes. Sean Considine and Jovon Johnson each have a pair of interceptions, as well. Advantage: ARIZONA STATE.
Special Teams: Are you SERIOUS? How much better can the Hawkeyes get in this department? Maybe if they start blocking KICKOFFS, I guess. Somehow, some way, you can always count on Iowa's special teams to make a big play or two. With the Hawkeye defense as good as it is, Iowa definitely counts on its special teams to help it win the battle of field position. Throw in the nation's best kicker — Nate Kaeding — and it's hard for me to imagine very many teams who are better in this category than Iowa. ASU's Tim Parker has missed an extra point in each of the Sun Devils' first two games. Advantage: IOWA.
Coaching: Kirk Ferentz has turned the Hawkeye program around. He was named the National Coach of the Year in 2002 and has led Iowa to 12 straight regular-season victories. Dirk Koetter has a 40-23 record as a head coach at Boise State (three years) and ASU (third year). He also serves as the Sun Devils' offensive coordinator. People mispronounce both "Ferentz" and "Koetter" with regularity. Advantage: IOWAY.
Intangibles: This will be the first road game for Arizona State. It's hard to believe, but the last time both Iowa and its opponent were ranked in a game played at Kinnick Stadium was on October 28, 1997 when the No. 15 Hawkeyes defeated No. 18 Purdue, 35 to 17. The Sun Devils have been outscored in the second half this season, 16 to 14, against a pair of inferior opponents (Northern Arizona and Utah State have a 1-4 combined record). ASU went 1-4 to finish the 2002 season, allowing 37.4 points per game during that five-game stretch. The game will be nationally televised and played at night, which should help the Hawkeyes avoid the natural let-down after playing a big game with their in-state rival. Advantage: IOWA.
PREDICTION: This will be a tremendous test for the Hawkeyes before they open the Big Ten season next Saturday in East Lansing. I expect Iowa to come out sharp and play with a lot of energy, given the excitement of a nationally-televised night game against a ranked opponent. However, the Sun Devils' passing attack—and a Hawkeye turnover—will keep ASU in the game and the score will be tied, 13-13, at the half.
Two big plays in the third quarter — a long run by Russell and an interception by Considine — will allow Iowa to take a 23-16 lead into the fourth quarter. A 43-yard field goal by Kaeding with a few minutes left will round out the scoring. Russell will finish with 119 yards rushing. Chandler will be 14-of-22 for 135 yards, with one TD (to Hinkel) and one interception. Greenway and Hodge will reach double-digits in tackles. Roth and Babineaux will each register a pair of sacks. FINAL: IOWA 26, ARIZONA STATE 16.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)