Iowa linebackers Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge entered the season well known for their exploits on the football field. It made sense opposing offensive coordinators would devise ways of attempting to neutralize the Hawkeyes' dynamic duo.
"The passed couple of weeks, they've been doing different things to me and putting me in different situations that I haven't been in before," Greenway said of Iowa State and Northern Iowa. "It's been a challenge, and it will continue to be that way, I'm sure, the rest of the year.
"They'll do different things in a zone and give me a look that I'll never have seen before. They would get me on it. That's something that I have to learn from."
Teams are looking to get Greenway in pass coverage against smaller, faster receivers in hopes of occupying him and taking advantage of a mismatch. Expect Ohio State to look into exploiting what has worked against the Hawkeyes to this point when the teams meet on Saturday (11 a.m., ABC) in Columbus.
"I have to show that I have the ability to shut down a receiver when I'm not supposed to be the guy out there doing it," Greenway said. "I weigh 245 pounds, and he weighs 190. He should be able to run passed me. I take pride in (stopping) that.
"They're running new routes. I don't think I'm a marked man. They're just doing different things and taking advantage of the slow white kid out there guarding receivers. (Laughs) It's just offensive coordinators finding weaknesses and holding zones and things like that. We have to evolve with the offense."
Attempting to lure Greenway into coverage responsibilities isn't new. An inexperienced defensive line finding it difficult to mount a consistent pass rush while still applying pressure up the middle is a change.
Iowa's defensive front has played well in spurts, but has fallen short of last year's dominating front four, which was expected. To compensate, coordinator Norm Parker has blitzed more this year than probably the last three years combined.
"We are doing a few more things, so there is more involvement (for Greenway and Hodge)," Iowa Head Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "You are talking about two veteran guys, so it's not a big deal for them. But it's like offense, it's 11 guys being on the same page. If all 11 guys are not there, it just takes one crack, one guy not quite doing what he is supposed to do and it can look pretty ugly. We have had a few of those already in three games."
Frequently bringing help to the rush from locations other than the line, linebackers and defensive backs are given added coverage responsibilities and often asked to hold that coverage longer than they did a year ago.
"We're definitely blitzing more than we have in the past," Hodge said. "I haven't really asked coach the reason for it. Coach calls the play. Our job is just to go out there and execute it.
"But once you blitz, it's good for everybody to be on the same page. That's the main concern right now that everyone is on the same page."
Hodge is calling it a growing process. When you're rotating in eight or nine linemen to go along with a new Leo in Ed Miles and a new safety in Miguel Merrick, it takes time to develop cohesion and chemistry.
"It's more of a challenge," Hodge said. "Any time you lose your four defensive linemen, it's always a challenge to regroup and get better, especially when you have a lot of young guys.
"I think we've been doing fine. I think a lot of people watch the games and think things have been going bad. But I think we've been doing well. I don't have a bad feeling about the passed three weeks. I think we've doing some good things out there."
Relying to heavily on statistics at this time of year wouldn't truly reflect a team's ability. But it does represent a gauge of performance.
Iowa ranks 41st nationally in rushing defense this season (108.3 YPG) after being in the Top 10 the last three seasons. Still, the Hawkeyes are allowing just 2.5 yards per carry, and rate ninth in the country in total defense (278.33 YPG).
Again, the difference between this year's defense and those of recent vintage lies in inconsistency, containment and being susceptible to the big play.
Northern Iowa enjoyed three pass plays of 20 plus yards and two more that gained 30 or more. Iowa State hit the Hawkeyes with a 40-plus yard bomb, and Ball State collected one of 30 plus yards.
"We definitely have given up a few plays out there," Hodge said. "There have been a little communication problems where everyone wasn't on the same page. But the good thing about it is that it's correctable."
This week, Iowa's cornerbacks will be greatly challenged, especially if left in coverage for extended periods. Ohio State features a skilled and gifted receiving tandem in Santonio Holmes and Ted Ginn Jr.
Holmes has caught two or more passes in 21 consecutive games, and has averaged 14.5 yards per reception in '05. Ginn is averaging 12.1 yards per catch.
"It will be a challenge for me and Antwan (Allen)," Iowa cornerback Jovon Johnson said. "We have to line up against these guys every play and play until the whistle. We'll prepare and rely on our fundamentals. We'll be fine."
Special teams also likely will factor into Saturday's outcome. In Iowa's 19-10 loss in Columbus in '03, Ohio State scored on a punt return and a blocked punt. Ginn has become one of the nation's most dangerous return men.
"Special teams played a big role over there last time," Greenway said. "We know they're going to come with it again this week. We have to be pretty efficient in our punt game and cover.
"Sometimes they have a seven-man look where they put Ginn and Holmes both back there (on punt returns). Who do you punt away from? You're going to kill yourself either way. It's going to be a challenge for us. That's why you play the game is to go out there and compete against the best. That's what makes this conference so fun."