1. Are you seeing what you want to see out of Iowa's front four this year?
Rob: I think so. As Kirk mentioned at his Tuesday presser, Mitch King enjoyed a good game against Northwestern that didn't show up statistically. The Wildcats' offense is just geared to get the ball off very quickly. I think the ends have been a bit up and down, but you would expect that from first-year starters, no matter how talented. Matt Kroul is having a very nice season and probably has been the most consistent of the group. I would like to see more of the rotation we witnessed earlier in the season.
Jon: I think for the most part, yes. Sure, if you looked only at statistics, you won't see a lot of tackles for loss or sacks. But three of Iowa's opponents run spread offenses, and ISU likes to spread it out some too. Those teams get rid of the ball quickly, and that means fewer sack opportunities for a defense. Iowa's run defense has been good enough, but the tackling at the line of scrimmage has to improve, especially this week. I think they have been steady.
Brian: I think a lot of people may have had unrealistic expectations for a Dorsey-like season out of Iowa's defensive line, but especially, based on Iowa's scheme that funnels thing in to the linebackers, things have been great. The one area I think they need to wrok quite a bit on is contain. The young DEs have lost contain, especially against QBs, a few times. Luckily the LBs have come up to make the play and erase the mistake, but it needs to be cleaned up for Iowa faces too many more top-flight mobile QBs (Juice and Lewis in particular).
2. Is there ever a good time for a road game?
Rob: No. And I think that's certainly the case for a team with an inexperienced quarterback. Ricky Stanzi has looked very comfortably in Kinnick this season, save a few ill-advised turnovers. But you can get that Michigan State will throw some things at him to make his day miserable in East Lansing. The Hawkeyes are 1-9 in their last 10 road games with the win coming at Northwestern last season. I'll feel good about Iowa being away from home this season if it's in a bowl game.
Jon: It depends on the opponent. Michigan State is a pretty good football team, but they are not great. They are also not a spread team; they want to establish the run and pass via play action, just like Iowa. This is going to be a physical football game that will come down to basic fundamentals, and I like Iowa's chances in a street fight like this. Rick Stanzi will be making his first career road start, so expect more mistakes. But I think Iowa has to throw the kitchen sink at MSU, if they have such a thing...blitz on defense, as Hoyer has not been a great passer this year. Open things up just a tad on offense. I think this is a winnable road game, and with some discontent back in Iowa City, it might not be a bad time to hit the road.
Brian: Not that I can think of. I really don't have much else to say. Road games are tougher than home games.
3. Is there a 'point of no return' this season, where if the Hawkeyes haven't turned the corner, things are just going to fall off the table?
Rob: Yes, if there is a seventh loss, that's the point of no return. This team has got to make it to the postseason. Missing out on a bowl for a second year in a row would be damaging on a lot of levels. I like the effort of this team, so even if it loses the next two weeks, I still think the drive will be there until they lose that seventh game. Then, all bets are off.
Jon: I really think that Saturday against Michigan State could be that point, but at worst, it's the road game against Indiana. If Iowa loses at Michigan State, and they are better than a touchdown underdog in this game, then they are 3-3. Every game the rest of the way will be a challenge, and they will likely be the underdog in every one of those games save the home game against Purdue. So this game against Michigan State is just huge.
Brian: I think if Iowa loses to both Michigan State and Indiana, things are going to hit the fan. That would set Kirk Ferentz up in a bad way against Wisconsin, a game Iowa would have a difficult time winning. If Iowa was 3-4 going into the Wisconsin game, and lost, that would give fans two weeks to tear this team and coaching staff apart. Luckily, I don't think that happens. I think Iowa had a good chance in both of these games. Michigan State is the sort of offense Iowa is built for, and Indiana doesn't play a lick of defense. In the past two games, Indiana has given up over 900 yards of offense.
4. Out of the remaining 7 games, over/under on the number of games Shonn Greene is healthy in the final minutes: 4.5. Discuss.
Rob: I'd put the over/under at 5.5. If we're hearing the truth that last week's injury wasn't a big deal, he should be there at the end of contests. I can't imagine him taking a much bigger hit. I also think the coaching staff will become more comfortable with Jewel Hampton carrying some of the load and when Paki O'Meara comes back it will also help.
Jon: That's tough. I don't know that any football player is healthty over the course of the final half of the season to begin with. It's just that some are more healthy than others. Iowa really needs Jewell Hampton to emerge as a capable number two not just in the running game, but in pass protection. that is what typically holds back a young runner in Iowa's offensive scheme. To answer the question, I will take the under.
Brian: I think over. There's no way that Shonn Greene is going to get concussed-out of that many games. I think the Iowa playcalling showed a greater concern for the late-game welfare of Greene, it was just an unfortunate hit that kept him from showing that. Hampton had a much bigger presence, taking the entire series that bridged the first/second quarter gap. Shonn only came in after the quarter break. 8 carries in the first quarter for Greene. I'll take the over.
5. The Hawkeyes rank 28th nationally against the rush, allowing a shade over 100 yards per game. Michigan State's Javon Ringer rates No. 2 nationally in rushing at 179.4 per contest. Something has to give. What does he end up with on Saturday?
Rob: I don't think this game plan is too complicated for the defensive coordinators. You stack the box and take away Ringer and Shonn Greene. I feel very good about the Iowa defense against the run, so I don't see Ringer getting his average. I see him banging through for about 100-125 yards. If that comes on 35 carries, I like the Hawks' chances. However, Hoyer hurt the Hawkeyes last year and if they sell out too much on the run, that could happen again. But he's the guy you want to beat you, not the super back.
Jon: I think Ringer ends up with under 125 yards. I know that might not sound like a victory, but it would be a victory based on his numbers this year. If he is getting 30+ carries for 125 yards, that's simply a win for the Hawks. But Iowa needs to do a better job of tackling on first contact, and Ringer is someone that does well after first contact. Somethin's gotta give, right?
Brian: I think he'll hit Iowa for about 135 yards, but onl about 30 carries. That's 4.5 yards per carry, and they'll come in 8 yard chunks or zero yard chunks. I don't think Ringer gets loose, and I don't think Ringer's going to be consistent enough to rack up the huge numbers he's seen already this year.
6. Who is your pick to click?
Rob: If Iowa wins this game, it will likely come down to slowing Javon Ringer. And if that's the case, you have to go defense here. The key will be for Iowa's defensive linemen to occupy the massive offensive linemen from Michigan State and slow up the back as he heads to the next level. Pat Angerer will be waiting to pounce once he reaches that points and racks up in the neighborhood of 12-15 tackles.
Jon: I am not going to go against Shonn Greene. I am on a hot streak. Iowa has to have Shonn Greene get off in this game if it has a chance to win, because of time of possession. Michigan State is going to do the same thing, on the ground, with Javon Ringer. So Iowa needs to counter and move the chains. Greene is the best tonic for that that Iowa has.
Brian: Two of the last three weeks, my pick to click hasn't even started (Jacody Coleman against ISU, and Tyler Sash against Northwestern). The smart-aleck side of me says I should pick Brian Hoyer or Javon Ringer, but I just can't do that. I think Iowa's coaching staff is going to be in Stanzi's ear to get Iowa's tight ends involved this year, and with the boxes stacked to stop Greene, there will be plenty of leak-out routes available. I'll put Moeaki on about 6 catches for 80 yards and a TD. As well as at least one strong kick-out block to spring Green on a 30-yard jaunt.