Insider Breakdown: Iowa-Ohio State

A look at how the Iowa-Ohio State match-up shakes out from Hawkeye Insider Publisher Rob Howe.

IOWA CITY, Iowa - James Vandenberg was 22 days short of his second birthday the last time Iowa won in Columbus. Brandon Wegher hadn't turned one yet.

The year was 1991. That fall, Nirvana released "Nevermind" and Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton announced he would he running for president.

Yeah, it's been a while.

Vandenberg, a redshirt freshman, and Wegher, a true freshman, will be the starting quarterback and running back, respectively, this weekend when the Hawkeyes face Ohio State. The showdown is for the Big Ten's BCS berth and likely at least a share of the conference title.

The Buckeyes opened as a 13.5-point favorite on Sunday. It had ballooned to 17.5 on Thursday afternoon.

"That's pretty much been the story all season," Iowa Tight End Tony Moeaki said. "We've been underdogs, I feel like, every game. It doesn't matter to us. We're just going to go out and give it our all."

Iowa dropped its first game of the season, 17-10, last Saturday against Northwestern. It came on top of the Hawkeyes' best start in the history of the program after they won the first nine games.

Despite that run, some viewed Iowa as a pretender. Many of them are giving Iowa no shot this Saturday at the Shoe.

"With so much on the line and being the underdog, nobody really expects us to go into Columbus and come out with a win," Iowa Center Rafael Eubanks said. "That's fine. It's kind of been like that all year. Even when we were winning, people weren't sure how they felt about us.

"We just stuck with each other and believed in ourselves. That's what it's going to take going in on Saturday."

The Hawkeyes have developed an us-against-the-college-football-world mentality.

"It forces you to stick together as a team and to have confidence in yourself as a team," Eubanks said. "You're on the road. Your fans aren't there to cheer you on when you're in a hostile environment. The only way you're going to get it done is by playing team football and sticking together."

If you're looking for advantages for Iowa in this matchup, camaraderie might be the main one. This team owns road wins at Iowa State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Michigan State. It's the most "true" victories on opponents' turf since 2002.

Iowa also won four road games in '96 and last won five road contests in '91.

Let's take a look at other areas where Iowa might hold an advantage or where it might be able to create some edges:

  • Contain Terrelle Pryor
  • It's hard to say you're going to shut down the Ohio State quarterback's ability to gain yards on the ground. The true sophomore has 604 rushing yards (5.3 YPC) and seven scores on the ground, which leads the Buckeyes. He'll get yards

    The key will be limiting the damage and making Pryor beat you with his arm. He's completing just 54.0 percent of his passes with nine interceptions to go with 15 touchdowns.

    In a loss at Purdue on Oct. 17, Pryor completed just 17 of 31 passes and threw two picks. The quarterback completed just 11 of 25 throws and tossed an interception in Ohio State's other loss, an 18-15 setback against USC on Sept. 12.

    I wouldn't expect Iowa Defensive Coordinator Norm Parker to assign someone to spy on Pryor. I think the strategy will be for the defenders to stay home to prevent Pryor from running for 10 yards on a third and nine.

    There is really no need to blitz Pryor much, if at all. Let him run around behind the line of scrimmage and pick his way down the field through Iowa's cover-two.

    The Buckeyes rank 98th nationally in passing offense and 10th in the Big Ten. They're 89th in rushing the football.

    • Take Some Chances on Offense
    • I'm not saying to come out in the shotgun and start chucking down the field. I'm also not calling for flee-flickers and double reverses.

      Iowa does need to come up with some looks that stray from tendency. Ohio State's defense just is too good to beat it with a run-of-the-mill, predictable game plan on offense.

      The Buckeyes are tied with Purdue for the conference lead in sacks at 20. They'll also come after freshman quarterback James Vandenberg with blitzes.

      Iowa could be effective running screens or draws to take advantage of Ohio State's aggressiveness. Some quick releases off of the line by the tight ends also might be successful. Short routes by the receivers also could open things up.

      Recent opponents have stacked the box and taken away Moeaki, giving up the deep ball to Iowa. I'm not sure that will be there against the Buckeyes at least until the Hawkeyes show they can hurt them short.

      Iowa also must take care of the football. Losing the turnover battle as it has the last two weeks will equate to an embarrassing outcome. Ohio State leads the conference in turnover margin.

      • Special Team Success/Field Position
      • In a low-scoring, conservatively called game that is expected in Columbus, guys like Daniel Murray and Ryan Donahue could play huge roles in the outcome.

        Donahue has performed steadily throughout the season. He's had a few hiccups, though, and shanking a ball at Ohio State might be the difference in a tight game.

        Murray has missed two of his last three field goal attempts during the last two weeks. His kickoffs also have been inconsistent at times, which led to the Iowa coaches warming up walk-on defensive back Ray Edwards for that role last week.

        Murray also has made 15 of 21 attempts this season, which is solid. His miss last week seemed to deflate Iowa and that might carry more of an effect this week with every point being so important.

        Iowa most likely will need to win the battle of field position to claim victory. Murray and Donahue are responsible to make that happen when given the opportunity.

        Coverage teams also will need to support the specialists as Ohio State return man Ray Small is dangerous.

        • Stand up to the Challenge
        • Being nervous or overwhelmed, especially early, could do in the Hawkeyes. There's a reason Iowa stands a win away from the BCS and the conference crowd – it has tackled a brutal road schedule and tough slate overall to he in this position.

          I just don't see the Hawkeyes being overwhelmed in Columbus. This team boasts some great leadership from its senior class and it will be ready to play.

          "You have to take a look at what the opportunity is and just think about what you're willing to sacrifice to get," Eubanks said. "It is just one game, but it's a very important game in a tough environment. It's just going back and playing Iowa football in the end."

          I'm sure the Iowa coaches have used every motivational tactic and bulletin board clip it could find this week. In the end, the players were well aware of the stakes.

          "It's a big game," Moeaki said. "I'm sure both sides realize that. But this is why we all play football. This is why we came to Iowa to compete for a Big Ten Championship. It's a big game and we're excited."

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