QUESTION: How does Iowa's defense match up with LSU's offense?
Ben Love: One thing the 2014 Outback Bowl got right, at least in the world of pregame billing, was the strength on strength matchup of the LSU offense versus the Iowa defense. Each unit respectively carried its team to the positions they're in this season – namely, in a New Year's Day bowl. The Hawkeyes rank in the top 20 in America in most defensive categories, including 11th or better in pass defense, total defense and scoring defense. LSU, on the other hand, has one of the nation's more balanced offensive attacks, even with a new quarterback, and leads the NCAA in third down conversions.
A closer look at two of Iowa's four losses reveals Kirk Ferentz's crew has had its struggles with workhorse tailbacks. James White of Wisconsin ran for 132 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries in a Badger win in Iowa City while Ohio State's Carlos Hyde ripped the Hawkeyes for 149 yards and two scores on 24 carries in the Buckeyes' win in Columbus. Look for Cam Cameron to turn to Jeremy Hill and Terrence Magee with regularity, testing that Iowa front and easing freshman Anthony Jennings into the game under center.
Where the Hawkeyes present the most problems for opposing offenses is on the second level, with a trio of senior linebackers who've all registered at least 97 tackles in 2013. Anthony Hitchens, Christian Kirksey and James Morris have also combined for 31.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. In the secondary senior B.J. Lowery is the leader, with three interceptions on the year to go with 16 PBUs and 19 total passes defended. The Iowa defense is very experienced and fundamentally sound, playing the pass exceptionally well. The big question is: Does Iowa have the kind of depth and strength/speed needed to stop a relentless downhill LSU rushing attack? The secondary question: Will Jennings' mobility cause problems for the Hawkeye defense? Both of these remain unknown variables heading into the game in Tampa.
Hunter Paniagua: While Ben provided a very thorough statistical rundown of the Iowa defense, I'll attempt to look at what the Hawkeyes do schematically and how that will matchup with the Tigers. Iowa utilizes a basic 4-3 defense with mostly zone coverage in the back seven. The Hawkeyes primarily pressure the quarterback with just its four done linemen and that frees up the linebackers — its strongest unit — to play with range and make plays all over the field.
The potential success for Iowa will start up front, and it will be pivotal that the Hawkeye defensive linemen get to Jennings in order to rattle the first-time starter. Iowa doesn't blitz often, but you might see more of that against a young quarterback. Even when they don't blitz though, Iowa's been able to blow up plays in the backfield as seven of the top eight linemen on the depth chart have registered at least one sack this season. But the offensive line's biggest struggles this season have come when opponents bring five or six pass rushers, so you'd like LSU's chances against a basic four-man rush.
In the secondary, Iowa utilizes a lot of seven-man zone, with the linebackers playing a big part in pass coverage. That will put a lot on Jennings' plate, as he'll have to be confident in his reads and aware of where every defender is on the field. Because the Hawkeyes will mostly be in zone, you can expect them to spy a linebacker to counteract those times when he does break from the pocket. As for the receivers, Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry have had no problems this season finding holes in zone coverage, and they'll really need to be on the same page with Jennings in order to take advantage of that.
12/10 – Most surprising player in 2013
12/11 – Most disappointing player in 2013
12/13 – Can LSU return to DBU in 2014?
12/16 – How will the offense change with Jennings at QB?
12/17 – Grading out the 2013 offensive line
12/20 – LSU's receiving corps in 2014
12/24 - Where will LSU benefit most from the extra practice time?