Five Questions: Iowa

Talking with Hawkeye Insider's Rob Howe about all things Iowa as the Spartans get ready to head to Iowa City on Saturday. He answers my questions about the offense, defense and what it will take for the Hawkeyes to win.

Wilson: This Iowa team seems to be much improved from last season. What are the biggest changes for the Hawkeyes that have made this team better?

Howe:Maturity and understanding are the two biggest changes factoring into Iowa's improved play. It's a developmental program, much like you guys see in East Lansing, so guys can make decent jumps as they go from underclassmen to upperclassmen. I think that's most evident on the defensive line. In terms of understanding, it's the second year in offensive coordinator Greg Davis' system. Everybody appeared lost in it last year. They are more often on the same page so far in 2013.

Wilson: Mark Weisman really wore the Michigan State defense down late in the game in East Lansing last season and looks to be playing well early this year. Michigan State brings in the No. 2 run defense in the nation. How important will establishing a run game be for Iowa?

Howe: The Hawkeyes will want to establish the run but are much better prepared to throw the ball this season than they were a year ago. If MSU stacks the box, I could see Davis turning to the short passing game. Iowa really hasn't throw the ball much to the running backs this season but they showed they were capable of catching it last year. Iowa also could look to get its tight ends more involved in the game plan than it has to this point. That could open things up to pound Weisman in the second half.

Wilson: Basically flipping the previous question, Michigan State always looks to get the ball moving on the ground early, but Iowa also is strong against the run. What has been the key to Iowa's success in stopping the run?

Howe: I touched on it in an earlier response but it really has a lot to do with the improvement of their tackles, Carl Davis and Louis Trina-Pasat, a pair of red-shirt juniors. RS sophomore Darian Cooper does a good job spelling them. Those interior guys not only make plays themselves, they absorb blockers to keep them off the linebackers, who are making a lot of tackles. In addition, the ends, Drew Ott and Dominic Alvis, are containing the edge much better than that position did a year ago.

Wilson: Jake Rudock has been impressive early in the season and looks like an upgrade over James VandenBerg. How big has his play been for the Hawkeyes in the first five games?

Howe: Vandenberg, in part, was a victim of circumstance in that he was the guinea pig in the transition from the Ken O'Keefe to Davis offense. That said, Rudock has outperformed what just about everybody outside of football complex predicted. While the running game has powered the Hawkeyes' fast start, Rudock is good enough to keep defenses honest. He's very calm, cool and collected and is a much better scrambler that most people foresaw.

Wilson: With four tightly contested games between Iowa and MSU since Mark Dantonio arrived, how do you expect this one to unfold and what will be the keys for the Hawkeyes to win the game?

Howe: I expect another close contest. With the strength of these two defenses, I can't see either side running away and hiding unless weather wreaks havoc on the afternoon. I really think it will come down to which team can establish some kind of passing game. The going will be tough on the ground. It's difficult to imagine either team being able to move the ball into scoring position without hitting a few plays through the air.

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