Opponents Focused on Taking Away Moeaki

Tony Moeaki and the Iowa offense was on a roll after an October win against Wisconsin. Since then, opponents have locked up the Hawkeye tight end. It's time to find a way to get the senior back in the mix.

IOWA CITY, Iowa - There's no need to send out an APB for Tony Moeaki. He's healthy and playing hard. He's just the No. 1 focus of opposing defenses.

"Yeah, if you're playing us, that's what you do," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "You start right there. Me and my big mouth saying he's a pretty good football player. But I think everybody's figured that out.

"Tony is an excellent player. So, he's going to draw attention. We just have to find ways to do a better job of maybe getting him open and also maybe go to other spots on the field if they're giving him some attention."

Iowa's starting tight end has caught three passes for 27 yards during the last three weeks, including being shut out in a 17-10 loss against Northwestern on Saturday. In the two games before that stretch, he caught nine passes for 160 yards and three scores against Michigan and Wisconsin.

"They'll just bring a safety down," Moeaki said of the opposition's attention to him. "Sometimes they'll bring a linebacker with a safety. Sometimes the corner gets added onto that. You can't really do anything about that. I'm just out there trying to help the team."

In addition to taking away Moeaki, opponents are stacking the box to stop Iowa's run game. The Hawkeyes have rushed 94 times for 293 yards (3.1 YPC) in the last three games, which includes two sub-100-yard efforts. They had 65 yards on 27 totes (2.4 YPC) against Northwestern.

Iowa ranks 94th nationally in rushing at 119.2 yards per game.

In an attempt to get the running game going and to help an inconsistent offensive line protect the quarterback, Iowa is keeping the tight ends in to a block. Wildcat Coach Pat Fitzgerald said Iowa lined up in max protect for most of the game against Northwestern.

On the positive side, it leaves the receivers often with one-on-one coverage. The Hawkeyes were provided with a lot of chances down the field against Indiana.

Expect Ohio State to follow the blue print used by the Hawkeyes' last three opponents.

"It's a little frustrating," Moeaki said. "But if it helps the team, that's fine."

Iowa has thrown seven interceptions in the last two games. The Hawkeyes now turn to backup quarterback James Vandenberg. Starter Rick Stanzi went down with a severe ankle sprain that will keep him out for the rest of the regular season.

If the Iowa coaches can find a way to get Moeaki and fellow tight end Allen Reisner, who has not caught a pass in the last three weeks, it could be a great help for Vandenberg. Short throws to the playmaking tight ends might allow the freshman to settle into a rhythm, something he couldn't do in a 9 for 27 day in relief of Stanzi against Northwestern.

"Our margin for error will be very thin," Ferentz said. "We'll have to do a good job. And to your point, Bob, we'll have to protect the football. We'll have to do a good job of that. If you turn it over, it's not going to be much of a game in the second half, I know that."

It's tempting to leave Moeaki, an outstanding blocker, in to help protect Vandenberg in Columbus. And yes, there's a chance you can use him as a decoy as the Hawkeyes did on the winning touchdown play at Michigan State. That's all fine.

But it's time to get the future NFL pick and your most talented offensive player back in the mix.

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