Minnesota should stop scheduling MAC teams as they lost to Ohio University two years ago and were destroyed by Toledo last year, 38-7. Among other big schools, Penn State lost to Toledo and Iowa lost to Western Michigan in 2000, while Bowling Green defeated Missouri last year. Marshall has knocked off enough bigger school opponents that these wins are not often considered upsets.
The traditional king of upsetting bigger schools in the MAC is Miami (Ohio). Not only is the program the "Cradle of Coaches" for producing leaders like Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Bill Mallory, and Randy Walker, but in recent years they have defeated teams that were rated like Virginia Tech (1997), North Carolina (1998), and Northwestern (1995). The win over NU was in the magical Wildcat Rose Bowl season under Gary Barnett, and, for good measure, the RedHawks beat NU again in 1999. Because of the 85-scholarship limit, more and more good players are falling down to smaller schools, and combined with upsets in recent years, very few small schools are intimidated by playing major conference foes. In fact, schools like Miami look forward to the chance to show the football world that their team and players have been overlooked and are worthy of attention. They showed this again last weekend as they beat North Carolina on the road, 27-21.
In the UNC game, Miami built a 20-7 halftime lead and held on to win by forcing an amazing nine Carolina turnovers! Miami QB Ben Roethlisberger completed 16-33 passes for 204 yards and a touchdown. RB Cal Murray ran 23 times for 101 yards to pace Miami's ground attack. The Redhawks controlled the game statistically, holding the ball for 38:17, compared to 21:43 for North Carolina. Miami had 379 yards total offense, 175 yards rushing and 204 passing.
Even before Miami beat North Carolina, many people were pointing to this week's game as a potential upset of Iowa. It is a trendy pick since Big Ten teams have been upset by MAC teams in recent years, Miami is one of the best MAC programs, the game is one of the few games that a big school actually will be playing on the road at a MAC stadium, and Iowa does not return its starting offensive backfield from last season. However, even though the Big Ten has lost games to the MAC in recent years and Iowa lost to Western Michigan in 2000, the Hawkeyes are 10-1 against the MAC over the last twenty-plus years.
This game could be a nice road test for the Hawks, but Miami was supposed to be a tough test for Coach Kirk Ferentz and company last year as well after playing Michigan tough the week before. It did not amount to much of a match up in 2001 as Iowa jumped out to a 24-0 halftime advantage on the way to a 44-19 win in Iowa City. The Hawkeyes held the RedHawks to just 26 yards total offense in the first half and built the lead to 44-0 before Miami scored three times late in the game. The Iowa Defense came up with two interceptions and a fumble recovery while recording five quarterback sacks. S Chris Smith returned an interception 33 yards for a score and DE Aaron Kampman registered his second interception of the season. Kampman and DT Derrick Pickens collected two sacks.
With banged up RB Ladell Betts, the Hawks managed to run for 141 yards on offense, but passed for 270. QB Kyle McCann connected on 13-16 passes for 201 yards and four touchdowns. TE Dallas Clark caught two of the scoring passes, and Kahlil Hill and Jeremy Allen also had good games for the offense. Like most of the games last season, QB Brad Banks rotated in and saw action in both halves of the game. Surprisingly, after the game and in the months following it, players and coaches from Miami have been telling everyone about how they are going to beat Iowa this season.
The Miami Offense should present some of the same problems that Akron posed last week. Both teams have good quarterbacks, and both teams excel in finding balance in both running and throwing the ball. Akron did not put points on the board against Iowa last week until the game was way out of hand, but the Iowa pass defense was very soft for much of the game. Iowa played well against the run, but the defense is going to have to play better this week. SS Bob Sanders even missed a few tackles last week, and that hardly ever happens, so look for a much better performance.
Iowa has played well against spread formation teams over the last year or so (e.g. Northwestern in 2000 and 2001, Miami 2001, and Texas Tech 2001), and Miami will run a lot of spread formation sets so they can spread the defense out. Unlike Texas Tech, Miami will spread teams out to open up a balanced attack of running the football and short passes to several receivers. They will also move the quarterback around and use the short passing attack to keep defenders off the quarterback. The Iowa Defense has the defensive tackles, linebackers, and safeties to stop the run and attack receivers after short receptions, but the cornerbacks and defensive ends must step up this week. The cornerbacks cannot sit off receivers and give large cushions the way they did after the game was out of hand against Akron last week.
The Iowa Offense attacks teams in a much different fashion now that the offensive line is more mature and deeper than recent editions. Look for closed formations and a strong running game early. If Coach O'Keefe can get the running game going again this week, play action from Banks to Dallas Clark or bootleg runs from Banks should be open. Starting RB Aaron Greving does not look to be healthy enough to play this week, but Fred Russell and Jermelle Lewis should be fine at the tailback spot as long as they protect the football. The pair combined to run for 293 yards last week against Akron. Miami may put eight or nine defenders near the line of scrimmage to force Iowa to throw the ball and not run constantly like last week, but that means that big plays will be there for Banks and the Iowa receivers. If WRs Mo Brown and Ed Hinkel both get going early and Banks finds a rhythm in passing, it might be a long day for the Miami Defense.
Because the Iowa OL was able to maul Akron last week, the punt unit never got to see the field. That will not happen again this week, so P David Bradley needs to have a good day and show that the struggles of last year are behind him. The OL does have the capability of rolling over Miami all day, but they need to be able to stay focused even if everything does not roll their way like last week. All in all, this is a game in which the Hawks should eventually wear out Miami up front even if things start out shaky early. That kind of win could really help the team later this season as last year Iowa was 2-5 in close games, 7-5 overall. Winning a tough game and overcoming adversity might also help the team during the ISU game next week. That game on paper might be the best Iowa-ISU game ever. One game at a time though!
The days are gone of people showing up and winning just because they are Notre Dame or USC. If a certain team has experience, talent, and believes in itself, they can play with anyone. If a team lacks experience or isn't playing well, they can get beat by anyone whether they are in a major conference or not. If Iowa wants to keep their momentum going this season, they better forget about ISU and get ready for Miami. There are plenty of bad examples of teams that were not able to do that.