1. Turn the Page – Iowa leads the series with Indiana, 35-24-4, but the Hoosiers have won the last three games. The Hawkeyes last win in the series came in 1997 with a 62-0 romp in Iowa City. Much like the upcoming games against Minnesota and Iowa State, the Hawks need to beat the Hoosiers this season to get back to a bowl game. Iowa has lost the last three games in the series with each of these three teams after enjoying years of success in beating up on this lower division triumvirate.
Iowa has three-game losing streaks to these teams not because the opponents are dramatically better in recent years, but rather because Iowa has been so poor these last three seasons. Minnesota and Indiana rarely beat Hayden Fry's good teams, and ISU hadn't beaten the Hawks since 1982. This year's version of the Iowa Hawkeyes should be better than the last three, but this is one of the weeks that they really need to show it. If they can defeat Indiana and move to 4-2, then the Michigan game and other future games look more winnable. If they lose to the Hoosiers, it could be the fourth year in a row that Hawk fans will have nowhere to go for the holidays.
2. Show up when the game starts – Iowa has not shown up at the beginning of the game in the last two years. Last season Indiana led 21-0 in the first half in Bloomington before Iowa got on the scoreboard with a field goal and trailed 21-3 at the half. The Hawks climbed within five points in the second half before the Hoosiers won, 45-33.
Two years ago the Hoosiers led 17-0 before an Iowa rally came up short in a 38-31 loss in Iowa City. Iowa trailed 31-14 in the third quarter and closed within seven points midway through the fourth quarter. The Hawks began a final drive from their own 21-yard line with 1:54 remaining and drove to the Hoosier four-yard line. However, after Scott Mullen gained six yards on a scramble to reach the four, time ran out before Iowa could get another play. The Minnesota loss that year also ended with Iowa down at the opposing goal when time expired.
The Indiana Defense was the worst defense in the Big Ten conference over the last two seasons. Iowa exploited the Hoosiers last season as Jon Beutjer threw for 380 yards and 4 TDs, while Ladell Betts ran for 118 yards on 17 carries. However, quarterbacks should not read too much into lighting up the IU defense the last two seasons because almost everyone else did as well against Indiana. Two seasons ago, Scott Mullen threw for 426 yards and looked brilliant for most of the game against IU.
Even though Indiana QB Antwaan Randle El is one of the most exciting players in the country, Iowa could have won either game if they wouldn't have spotted the Hoosiers such a large head start. The Indiana Defense is better this season than it has been over the last five years, but the Iowa Offense needs to come out of the gates quickly with mistake-free football.
3. HE'S BACK!!! – Neither Iowa nor Indiana had upper-division teams the last three years, but the only reason IU won the games in the series was Antwaan Randle El. Two years ago, Randle El completed 12-23 passes for 247 yards and 4 TDs. The Hawkeye Defense held him to 10 rushing yards on 12 carries, but his speed and quickness within the pocket on pass attempts allowed him time to beat Iowa with his arm.
Last season, Randle El completed just 9-22 passes for 111 yards and 1 TD, but he rushed 19 times for 187 yards and 2 TDs in the Hoosier win. However, this is not the Iowa Defense that he had seen in the past. This Iowa Defense swarms to the ball much better causing elusive runners like Randle El to get gang tackled and surrounded. This Iowa Defense is faster and quicker in the secondary and at the linebacker spots. This Iowa Defense also is bigger and more physical than any of the last few versions. Most importantly, this Iowa Defense doesn't blow assignments and tackles much better than in recent years.
Defending Randle El is easy on paper, but very difficult on the field. Although Indiana is one of the poorer teams in the Big Ten, almost every team that plays IU has serious problems stopping Randle El. Iowa has not been able to stop him the last two years, but this year should be different if Iowa plays defense like they have most of the year. They are 1st in the Big Ten and in the top ten in the country in pass defense and total defense, and the rush defense is ranked 2nd in the Big Ten and 16th nationally.
Much like the game plans against Purdue and MSU, Iowa will play a high percentage of passing downs on defense with most of the unit in pass coverage. Iowa has blitzed on occasions this season, but nothing to the extent of what Purdue or the Pittsburgh Steelers do. Iowa tends to rush just the front four in many pass situations, but this week they might use a fifth player to shadow Randle El just behind the line of scrimmage with other players playing zone nearby. The DL will have to concentrate on keeping their lanes and use outside/in contain to funnel Randle El towards LBs and safeties who will try to give him a pounding.
There were some tackling and coverage problems in the first half against MSU, but the skill people for IU aren't as talented or as big overall as on the Spartans. Norm Parker and his defensive staff have done a good job this season as the unit has looked prepared every week. Their execution in coverage and against the run has been very solid.
4. Keep Randle El off the field – The Iowa Offense has not been kind to the defense in recent weeks, but they can help make amends by limiting their own amount of 3-and-out series in the game. The IU Defense is better this season, but Iowa should be able to move the ball and score points if they execute. Traditionally, over the last few years, Indiana has had a hard time stopping the pass. They must have been trying to hide that weakness from Illinois last week as Illinois and QB Kurt Kittner were limited in the air. However, the Illini ran for 276 yards as a team as a result of the IU defensive scheme even though they are not a good running team.
Indiana caused several turnovers in the 63-32 rout of Wisconsin in the most bizarre game of the year, but this IU defense has weaknesses. If Iowa can find balance in their offense and not allow IU to cover up for their weaknesses, the Hawks should find success. They may not have eye-popping passing stats in the game again this year, but Kyle McCann, Ladell Betts, and company should score at least 28 points and eat up the clock if they are doing their job.
This offense is not as experienced up front as the defense, but it is time for them to stand up and become consistent. The offense has moved the ball better in the first half of all the games this season than in the second half, and that should not be happening. Iowa should not lose intensity or focus as the game goes on. As the defenses adjust to what Iowa is doing offensively, the Iowa players and coaches need to adjust as well. The Iowa Defense seems to know their assignments and adjust well because of their talent and experience, yet the Iowa Offense has struggled at times even though they also have talent and experience.
The Iowa OL stepped it up last week against MSU, but McCann struggled to get the ball to Kahlil Hill and Dallas Clark. This week the OL must take another step forward and dominate for long periods of time while the team needs to see the old Kyle McCann who was accurate while making good decisions. His confidence seems down right now, but never fear as IU is usually a good remedy for a struggling QB.
Kyle will play much better this week, but we also need to see Brad Banks at QB more. Whether McCann struggles or not, Banks needs to play a series or two every week for many reasons:
1.) He needs experience for next season.
2.) He can help the team because he brings a running dimension that makes defenses play differently.
3.) Teams have to prepare for him, which makes it harder and longer to prepare for Iowa.
4.) He should be used in goal line situations and other short yardage situations. 5.) Iowa is recruiting athletic QBs from around the country, yet what signal does it send to those recruits if Banks rarely plays?
The coaches see Brad play in practice every day, so they should be trusted on who deserves to start. However, the coaches are human beings, and human beings are sometimes unable to be aggressive and take chances to try something different when they are in a tough situation. Fred Russell, Aaron Greving, and Banks are all capable of contributing more, but the coaches have to be willing to take a chance and play them even though they lack experience.
Kyle McCann and Ladell Betts, especially Ladell, deserve to be on the field for a majority of the plays when they are healthy. However, if Lou Holtz and South Carolina can substitute RBs from time to time and substitute a running QB for Phil Petty, then Iowa should have the ability to do it as well. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few weeks.
5. Special Teams – Even if they get hurt playing special teams, I think it is a great move by Coach Ferentz to jumpstart the struggling coverage units by inserting Bob Sanders, Bennie Sapp, R.J. Meyer, Grant Steen, and Dallas Clark back on the coverage teams even though they already start. The punt team was the best unit in the Big Ten last year, and although graduated P Jason Baker was a huge reason for their success, the cover guys like Sapp and Sanders were outstanding.
Iowa won games against Northwestern, Penn State, and Michigan State last season in large part because they made huge plays on special teams. Other than K Nate Kaeding and the punt block that Tim Dodge had last week at MSU, the special teams have not been special. Inserting the starters that formerly gained their reputations as hitters on the special teams might not directly help David Bradley's punting or the long snapping, but the overall play should get much better in a hurry.
Iowa is not the only team to play starters on special teams. Ohio State did this for years, while Virginia Tech still wins games by using defensive standouts on their special teams. Sometimes players get hurt like All-Pro CB Jason Sehorn did with the New York Giants, but injuries are part of football.
The special teams have contributed to two losses this season. It would be great if they can become a strength that contributes to victories.