1. What, if any, changes will Iowa make in their offense to cope with losing two of the top receiving threats on the team?
Rob: I would doubt there will be drastic changes. Andy Brodell and Tony Moeaki are big losses, but it wasn't like the Iowa offense was setting the world on fire with them. Iowa simply needs to find a way to get Damian Sims and Albert Young involved in the offense. The opposition has concentrated on taking the two most dangerous Iowa weapons away, and it's time for the Hawkeyes to counter. This is an Indiana defense that allowed Illinois (yes, Illinois) to rush for over 300 yards last week in Bloomington, including 214 from Rashard Mendenhall. True, the Illini run spread and option, a far cry from the Hawkeye look. But if Iowa doesn't find a way to get the ground game going to take pressure off quarterback Jake Christensen and keep Indiana receiver James Hardy on the sideline, it's going to be a long afternoon.
Jon: I don't know if they will make changes or not, but I hope to see much less ‘I-formations' in this game, because that has become a flashing red light to the defense to load the box with eight defenders. You can make teams pay for doing that, even out of an ‘I', but you need excellent wide receivers and pass protection. I am not sure that Iowa has either of those as of right now. I would like to see Iowa run more formations that spread out the defense, which you can run out of in more space than the running backs have seen in recent weeks.
Brian: I think we'll see a lot more rotation at the wide spots, rather than sticking with two, maybe three guys. In previous games, it was Brodell and Cleveland almost all the time, with Sandeman and DJK tossed in there lightly. This week, I expect to see even numbers among the wideouts, with Myers, Young, and Sims all seeing time split wide or in the slot.
2. Will Iowa begin rotating players in and out against a talented and speedy Indiana offense, especially at the skill positions?
Rob: Sorry, I just don't see it if you're talking about the defensive line. I do think we'll see some 3-4, nickel and dime as the Hawkeyes showed at Wisconsin, but I doubt we're going to see a huge move from Iowa's base cover-two. And I don't see guys like Adrian Clayborn and others for which the public is pining getting significantly more reps.
Jon: I think that Iowa will use multiple defensive schemes in this game, like last week, and that should help. But I don't expect any rest for Adam Shada or Charles Godfrey, because James Hardy can score from anywhere on the field at anytime. Iowa's defensive line may need a blow here or there if they have to chase QB Kellen Lewis too much.
Brian: I don't think wholesale, but I do think we'll see some spot duty, especially in the middle portion of a quarter, where plays might not mean as much. If you get a backup 5-10 snaps in the middle of a game, that's 5-10 snaps that can happen in the fourth quarter for your first-teamer without feeling gassed. I see this happening more in the front seven than the back four, for the simple reason that Indiana's WRs are a smart group that know how to beat a defense, let alone freshmen like Jordan Bernstine, Brett Greenwood, or Cedric Everson.
3. Which is more challenging to overcome: The running back attrition Iowa had in 2004 or the receiver/pass catcher attrition Iowa is dealing with this year?
Jon: Neither is preferable, and I might be wrong on this, but I think it might be the attrition Iowa is going through right now at receiver. Neither the 2004 or 2007 Iowa teams had/have dominating offensive lines. But the 2004 team did have Ed Hinkel, Clinton Solomon and Scott Chandler in the passing game. They spread teams out more, while still running just enough to keep teams honest. Who will ever forget Sam Brownlee's nine yard run on third down against Ohio State in 2004? I won't. Yes, this team has a healthy Albert Young and Damian Sims. But teams are just stacking the box too much for them to be effective, and Iowa's receivers are very young now, and there are a lot of mistakes that can happen.
Rob: I think it's '04 in a landslide. At least this year's team has scholarship wide receivers even though they lack experience. As we saw in Wisconsin, this is a pretty talented group. Three years ago, Drew Tate was working with non-scholarship backs with borderline Division I talent. I'm not trying to belittle Sam Brownlee, but no one expected him to rip off an 80-yard scoring jaunt. Iowa has playmakers at RB and WR still running around in '07. There's a huge difference.
Brian: 2004, hands down. If a team knows you can't run, they can sit 15 yards off the line of scrimmage, 7 men out in coverage, and let you try and jam it in there through the air, forcing picks (14 of them for Tate in 2004.) If a team stacks the box, there are certainly ways to beat them, it just takes execution. It's easier to pass over a defense stacking the box than to try and find a passing lane against 7-man coverage. That didn't make a whole lot of sense as I wrote it, but you get the jist.
4. Which of the young receivers will enjoy the best day catching the ball?
Rob: I say "catching the ball" because one could end up with five receptions and a hundred while missing blocks and hot reads. I'm going to go with Paul Chaney. He just looked like a guy that could make plays last week, real smooth. Iowa will have to stretch the field a bit and this kid can fly. Let's just hope he stays on his feet.
Jon: I think that DJK will show some flash on Saturday. I think he might actually attract some attention from Indiana, but if the Hoosiers choose to blitz Iowa like the Cyclones and Badgers have, hopefully Iowa will have figured a way to counter that and make the opponent pay. But Rob is right in that there will be some missed plays.
Brian: James Cleveland. It's hard to remember that he's a young guy, as he's been on campus for about 20 months at this point, but he's still out there leaning. After last week's game, you can bet Indiana's defenders will know where Paul Chaney is at all times, and Derrell Johnson-Koulianos should attract a bit of attention as well. Cleveland isn't the best at anything, but he's real solid in most areas.
5. Do you kick it to Marcus Thigpen or neutralize him by keeping it away?
Rob: Iowa has done well with coverage teams this season, and I think you're just adding pressure in Murray to ask him to get too fancy. Thigpen is a serious threat with 4.27 40 speed, but Iowa can control him if everybody completes their assignment. It's definitely something you think about, and I would favor kicking away from him on kickoffs (provided Iowa has a few) if possible, but maybe after a Jayme Murphy hit, he'll crumble anyway.
Jon: If you don't kick it to him, you squib it, and basically say that you are giving them the ball between the 35 and 40. And given how close a game I think this might be, I don;'t think that is a bad idea. Make Indiana earn it. If you kick it to him, it might be inviting trouble with these new rules. But if the past is any indicator, Iowa has not really kicked away from too many dangerous return men.
Brian: If there's one spot that Iowa's found some momentum, it's on kickoffs. I'd tell my kicker to get it up in the air and not worry as much about distance. If Thigpen wants to run up and catch it with #17 staring him in the face, by all means. Iowa's young players have shown their fire and desire on special teams, and as much as you'd like to take Thigpen's return skill out of the game, I just don't think you can take the energy that unit brings out of it either.
6. Who is your pick to click?
Jon: Derrell Johnson-Koulianos. I think it's DJK's time to shine. It's a home game, and I am glad the kicks are moved back five yards this year, because this kid is getting a chance to affect the game in special teams. Jake Christensen is a close second for me. I think a return to Kinnick and the friendly confines therein will be good tonic for he and his teammates. Let it fly!
Rob: I'll stick with the defensive side of the ball and go with Charles Godfrey. The Iowa secondary will be tested this week and have ample opportunity to make plays. I'll go out on a limb and say the speedster from Texas will pull off a Pick 6.
Brian: Brandon Myers. A week of learning the #1 routes, getting used to being that #1 TE option will give Myers a change to be Jake's safety valve. 2nd and 7, 3rd and 4, that's where Myers will make his money. His stats won't be through the roof, but I believe we'll see Myers keep a few drives going with a number of timely receptions.