HOURLY GAME DAY FORECAST | HN.com's IOWA-MSU PREDICTION
Since we last spoke in this space, our weekly Iowa Hawkeye opponent preview and prediction corner, the leaves have changed colors on the trees in and around Kinnick Stadium. Some trees have already been stripped of their foliage.
It is officially fall in Iowa, as we enjoyed an early Indian Summer, one that seemed to last from the Spring game right on through to the Michigan State game, as it never got ‘dog days of summer' hot.
However, the heat is on Iowa's next opponent, the Ohio State Buckeyes. They come into the game in Iowa City having lost two straight Big Ten football games. They are not good at stopping the run, they aren't leading the universe in punting, and Mike Nugent actually missed a football.
Remember that episode of Seinfeld where Elaine met the ‘bizarro' world Jerry, Kramer and George?
This is a ‘bizarro' sort of game for both of these teams. In 2002, both clubs ran the table in the Big Ten, a perfect 8-0. Last year, Iowa lost three league games and Ohio State lost two. New Year's Day bowls, Big Ten titles, Top 10 finishes, staunch defenses and great special teams have been the common bond between the Hawks and the Bucks in recent times.
But not this year, and not in this game.
This is the ‘Loser-City' game of the year so far in the league. No, I am not saying that the loser of this game is going to have a losing season, or that anyone associated with it is a loser.
However, the loser will likely be looking at one of the Big Ten's two ‘City' bowls, the Music and the Motor, square in the face, while the winner will still feel somewhat decent about its chances of making it to at least the Alamo Bowl.
OSU NO LONGER RUNSTOPABLE
One of my favorite things to do as publisher of HawkeyeNation.com is to make up cute little words like ‘runstopable'. In this case, what I am saying is that Ohio State bullied their way to the top of the country in recent years by having a downright nasty penchant for stopping the run, same as the Hawkeyes. In fact, the 2003 Bucks and 2003 Hawks were incredibly similar teams in all phases of the game. But each team's ability to make its opponents one-dimensional was its defining trait.
This year, Ohio State ranks 67th in the country in stopping the run, allowing nearly 150 yards per game on the ground. That sounds great! Except that Iowa is only averaging 92.8 rushing yards per game, 109th out of 117th in the NCAA rankings.
We are not talking about an unstoppable force against an immovable object now, are we?
Iowa has had two weeks to heal and get more cohesive along their offensive line, as they continue to work on getting their inexperienced players seasoned before its too late. While I don't think you are going to see a drastic improvement out of Iowa, I think the Hawks will top the 100 yard mark on the day, and Marques Simmons' north-south style of running might be just what this line needs to be ‘average'. Right now, ‘average' in the NCAA is about 156 yards per game.
On the other hand, the Hawkeyes are stopping the run quite effectively, ranking #9 in the nation, allowing just 85.2 yards per game on the ground. Ohio State is gaining 111.8 yards per game on the ground, good (or bad) for 92nd in the country.
To summarize, neither team runs well, Ohio State doesn't defend the run well and Iowa does. You have to think that Iowa can muster some type of advantage out of all of that, with field position being a huge factor in this game.
No, he probably doesn't like that moniker, as Iowa will always look to establish a running game if it can. But up until now, it hasn't been able to. So against Michigan State, Iowa called 18 passing plays on its first 21 plays. True sophomore quarterback Drew Tate completed 25 of his 36 passes for 340 yards and one touchdown. Perhaps as impressive was the fact that Michigan State sacked Tate just one time. Iowa still leads the league in sacks allowed per game, and Iowa fans should not be surprised to see Ohio State blitz, blitz and then blitz some more to make up for their run stopping deficiencies and to try and get the young Tate off his game. Thankfully for Iowa fans, the game will be played in the friendly confines of Kinnick Stadium. Though the forecast calls for rather windy conditions, Iowa's attack is not vertical, and it's predicated with short and safe passes. Tate is completing better than 66-percent of his attempts, so you can see he is fine with taking what the defense gives him.
OSU AIR ATTACK
If there is a soft underbelly to this Iowa defense, it's their ability to stop the pass against a patient and accurate quarterback.
OSU passer Justin Zwick has not been accurate to date; completing less than 52-percent of his passes. He has five TD passes to five INT's, similar to Tate's numbers in those departments. Zwick is not an Andrew Walter or a Chad Henne at this point, namely because his supporting cast on offense is not as talented, yet, as what those two quarterbacks have around them.
While it's still mind blowing for many of us would be experts who reside outside of Columbus as to why they have been so average, or below average, if you look at their national stat rankings on offense over the past three seasons, on offense, they still have some weapons.
Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn have to be accounted for at wide receiver and in the return game. A key for the Hawks will be to apply pressure on Zwick early and not let him get confidence. Continue to the blitz packages out of the nickel…apply some pressure up the middle, forcing Zwick to throw on the run; he has yet to look comfortable doing that.
While Iowa can be beaten through the air, the fact that this game is in Kinnick and it should be the most raucous crowd Zwick has encountered, I just don't think this will be the game that he gets untracked.
ISN'T THAT SPECIAL?
Mike Nugent is the best kicker in college football. He was just a shade behind Nate Kaeding the past couple of years, and with Nate now apply his perfection in San Diego with the Chargers, Nugent stands alone as the best kicker in the land. He has hit on two 55-yard field goals this year, one of them being the game winner against Marshall. His miss in overtime against Northwestern might have been more shocking than Ohio State's losing that football game.
The wind could play a factor on Saturday, as the forecast calls for sustained 15 to 20mph gales out of the West, Northwest. Crosswinds are a kickers worst enemy, but Nugent would know how to deal with that if anyone can.
The Buckeyes have dangerous return men, as we mentioned. They are 20th in punt returns and 10th in kickoff returns. While Iowa is getting better at kickoff coverage, they are still not out of the woods just yet. Their punt coverage has been fantastic.
This game, like last year's game could come down to field position and the return game. Ohio State won that battle last year, scoring its two touchdowns with its punt return/punt block unit. Iowa's lone touchdown came on a fake field goal that saw Nate Kaeding take a pitch and run it in for the score.
If Bradley can average 38 to 40 yards per punt with PLENTY of hang time, the Hawks can negate Ohio State's advantage. But David Bradley has not always been the most consistent punter during his career with the Hawks.
14: passes caught by Ed Hinkel over the last two weeks; seven in each game.
356: combined receiving yards by Hinkel and Clinton Solomon in the last two games.
7: different receivers have caught at least one pass in each of Iowa's last two games.
8: straight wins for Ohio State in this series.
13: years since Iowa has beaten Ohio State, the emotional 16-9 win at the ‘Shoe.
21: years since Iowa beat Ohio State in Kinnick.
14: # of wins by seven or less points by OSU in their last 28 victories, including winning 13 of their last 15 by seven points or less.
100: This game will be Kirk Ferentz's 100th as a college head coach.
14 of 26: players on Iowa's offensive depth chart are soph's or younger.
13 of 24: players on OSU's offensive depth chart are soph's or younger.
12 of 23: players on Iowa's defensive depth chart are soph's or younger.
9 of 22: players on OSU's defensive depth chart are soph's or younger.
1988: the last 0-3 league start by an Ohio State team.
2nd: Ohio State is 2nd in the league against the pass.
6 of 7: Mike Nugent's career mark from 50-yards or more
HN.COM PUBLISHER JON MILLER'S IOWA-OHIO STATE PREDICTION
OK folks, I am 38-5 in Iowa Hawkeye game week predictions since the start of the 2001 season. PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: I don't bet on games and you shouldn't either. But for inquiring minds, that's 33-games above the break-even line, straight up.
What we have on Saturday, in many ways, is what we saw heading into the Ohio State game last year. I picked Iowa to win that contest, so there is one of my five incorrect calls over the last four seasons. I felt Iowa would win the special teams battle and win a close game. They lost that battle and lost the game.
While Iowa's offense might not be ready to make us think of the 1980's Express that we all witnessed in Kinnick, I do think they will be able to do some things against Ohio State. OSU is also 95th in the nation in turnover margin.
It's one of those games that really and truly will come down to the clichés; turnovers, field position and special teams, but with that extra dab of Hawkeye offense against a less than nightmarish OSU defense. That is not to say that OSU does not have a good defense, just not the out of this world brand we have been used to seeing in Columbus under Tressel. The good thing for Iowa fans is that it's the same sluggish offensive attack. PLUS, they are starting a freshman at Right Tackle this game. Kirk Barton, meet Math Roth. Also, the Music City Bowl reps lick their chops at potentially landing the Buckeyes for their bowl game this year. They too, will be in attendance in Kinnick on Saturday, as will Outback Bowl reps.
IOWA 23, Ohio State 19 Mike Nugent wins yet another special teams player of the week honor in the league with four field goals, and Columbus talk radio shows melt down, calling for backup QB Troy Smith to take the reigns.
IN SEASON GAME BY GAME PREDICTIONS
Week One: Iowa 48, Kent State 10 (Iowa 39, Kent State 7, actual score)
Week Two: Iowa 24, Iowa State 6 (Iowa 17, Iowa State 10, actual score) Week
Three: Arizona State 23, Iowa 17 (ASU 44, Iowa 7, actual score)
Week Four: Michigan 26, Iowa 10 (Michigan 30, Iowa 17, actual score)
Week Five: Iowa 23, MSU 13 (Iowa 38, MSU 16, actual score)
Jon's Game Week predictions since the start of the 2001 season: 38-5 (losses: 2001: Iowa State & Michigan; 2002: USC; 2003: Michigan State & Ohio State
Listen to Jon Miller & Jim Zabel, the legendary Voice of the Hawkeyes, after the game on 1040, WHO. The show will begin approximately an hour after the game ends and we will break down the Saturday games as well as take your phone calls for three hours If you live in Des Moines, tune into WHO-TV 13 on their 10PM newscast for Jon Miller's ‘Eye on the Hawks' segment, and watch ‘Soundoff' on the same channel Sunday nights after the newscast for more Hawkeye insight from Jon Miller
If you are in the Des Moines area, you can stop by Off Campus Apparel and Novelties right next to the Merle Hay Mall and pick up a copy of Hawkeye Nation magazine. Also, look for copies at the ‘Gameday Iowa' tent near Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.