As Missouri Head Coach Gary Pinkel is quick to point out, Iowa lost 5 games by a total of just 18 points.
"Overall, I just look at a really good football team," said Coach Pinkel, speaking of Iowa. "Kirk Ferentz is a great football coach, and they've got a great program...................... They've got good players all over that team. If you look at them offensively, I think they like to run the football. They've got a good offensive line. They like to play-action pass. Their QB is a really good player. They like to run the football, play great defense, and great kicking game. That's their philosophy."
Iowa enters this game absent their all-conference WR, in senior Derrell Johnson-Koulianos, who was arrested earlier this month, and has been dismissed from the football team, and their leading rusher, in sophomore RB Adam Robinson, who missed the latter part of the season with concussion symptoms, and has been suspended for the Hawkeyes' bowl game. Following injuries and transfers at the RB position, Robinson's suspension leaves the Hawkeyes thin at the RB position.
Iowa will likely replace Johnson-Koulianos with senior WR Colin Sandeman 6'1" 200 (1.5 receptions/game, 10.8 yards/reception, 2 TDs) and sophomore WR Keenan Davis 6'3" 215. Davis enters the Insight Bowl with 10 receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown. Iowa Offensive Coordinator Ken O'Keefe talked about Davis.
"Keenan Davis is a good football player," O'Keefe said. "This is where guys that have ability, or great players, begin to emerge, show what they're capable of doing, show what they've worked hard for, their opportunities, by taking advantage of what they have in the ballgame. We have confidence in Keenan, and I think there's a lot of excitement that he's going to do whatever he can to take advantage of it."
Davis will also likely replace Johnson-Koulianos as Iowa's kick returner. Sandeman has given way to senior Paul Chaney 5'9" 170 as the the Hawkeyes' primary punt returner.
True freshman RB Marcus Coker 6'0" 230 has been the Hawkeyes' starter during Robinson's absence, and on the season has rushed for 403 yards (5.0 yards/carry) and a TD.
"You can expect him to run the ball physically and run it tough, which he likes to do," said O'Keefe, talking about Coker. "This is an opponent that's going to offer some different challenges to him and one of them is going to be in the blitz pickup game. We really like the progress Marcus has made."
Senior QB Ricky Stanzi 6'4" 230, who has thrown 210 completions out of 324 attempts, with just 4 interceptions, for a completion percentage of 64.8%, and an average of 13.4 yards/completion, and 25 TDs, still has some experienced targets upon whom he can rely, including junior WR Marvin McNutt 6'4" 215 (4.3 receptions/game, 15.6 yards/reception, 8 TDs), senior TE Allen Reisner 6'3" 248 (3.3 receptions/game, 10.5 yards/reception, 2 TDs), and junior TE Brad Herman 6'5" 247 (0.8 receptions/game, 17.1 yards/reception).
"I think he's just a really good player," said Coach Pinkel, talking about Stanzi. "He's got a lot of experience. He's only thrown four interceptions. He does what I call good quarterbacking."
McNutt, a native of St. Louis, knows that bowls are not about handouts and pageantry. They are about winning.
"You need to remember what you're down here for," McNutt said. "You're not going to remember the gifts, but you'll remember your win-loss total from your bowl games."
The Hawkeyes' play a couple of fullbacks, in senior Brett Morse 6'3" 238, and red-shirt freshman Brad Rogers 5'10" 215. Morse averages about 1 carry/game, and Rogers about 1 reception/game.Coach Ferentz said a few days ago that Rogers will not play due to medical issues.
The Hawkeyes struggled in the red zone after Robinson went out, coinciding with a season-ending three game losing streak, three games Iowa lost by a total of 10 points.
Iowa rushes the football on 55% of their offensive plays, but the Hawkeyes have gained 63% of their offensive yardage, and have scored 65% of their TDs, through the air. While it's fair to say that Iowa's passing game is predicated on running the football, it has been very effective, and Stanzi is very efficient, with a passer efficiency rating of 160.50.
Freshman Mike Meyer 6'2" 175 handles the place kicking duties for Iowa, and has made 12 of 15 field goal attempts, the longest attempt of which was from 42 yards.
Iowa plays a 4-3-4 defense. They usually stay in their base defense, and they don't blitz much. They play a lot of zone coverage.
"Defensively, (Iowa's) one of the top defenses in the country," explained Coach Pinkel. "You look at them statistically on defense. They're one of the best defenses in the nation! Look at all of the categories of defense where they're top fifteen! They can run. They're physical. They have a real good defensive line. Their secondary is well coached."
"They are not real complex," continued Coach Pinkel. "They are very well coached. They are very, very disciplined. Clayborn's a great player, and it starts with him. And, they have people like that up front, and that allows them to be really good on defense. And, across the board, they're really good. And, they play a lot of guys. They're just very, very sound in what they do. It's hard to get big plays against them. It's hard to get long drives on them. They're really good."
After missing several games due to an illness, Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker will be back with Iowa for the Insight Bowl. Parker's defense has been playing shorthanded for much of the season, following the loss of LBs Jeff Tarpinian, and Bruce Davis, and DB Tyler Nielsen. Tarpinian has been practicing, and is a gameday decision.
True freshman James Morris 6'2 215 (63 total tackles) is one of the linebackers that has emerged for the Hawkeyes.
"More than ability-wise, it was all of a sudden this guy is playing a new position," said Parker, speaking of Morris. "Everything was new to the guy. Nine months ago he's riding a yellow school bus, now he's trying to defend Terrelle Pryor in front of 72,000 people on national TV."
Senior LB Jeremiha Hunter 6'2" 235 leads the Hawkeyes in tackles (85 total tackles). He's the one LB who has been there all year.
Up front, the Hawkeyes are as good as there is. Senior DE Adrian Clayborn 6'4" 285 (51 total tackles, 7 TFLs, 3.5 sacks), a Consensus All-American, is as good as their is in college football. Senior DE Christian Ballard 6'5" 297 (40 total tackles, 4 TFLs, 2 sacks) gives Iowa a pair of excellent bookends. Senior DT Karl Klug 6'4" 270 (52 total tackles, 11 TFLs, 4.5 sacks), and junior DT Mike Daniels 6'1" 275 (40 total tackles, 11 TFLs, 4 sacks), are a little undersized for the interior defensive line, but they're both very productive for the Hawkeyes, and provide Iowa with a fearsome foursome. The Hawkeyes' defensive linemen are very productive at the line of scrimmage. Iowa will likely rely on their four man rush to apply pressure on the QB.
The Hawkeyes' secondary is also very good. Sophomore corner Micah Hyde 6'1" 185 (76 total tackles, 3 INTs, 7 PBUs) is second on the team in tackles, followed by junior safety Tyler Sash 6'1" 210 (73 total tackles, 2 INTs, 2 PBUs). Junior corner Shaun Prater 5'11" 180 (59 total tackles, 4 INTs, 5 PBUs) and senior safety Brett Greenwood 6'0" 200 (50 total tackles, 4 INTs) are the Hawkeyes' leading interceptors, with four apiece.
For the sake of comparison, Iowa's secondary is similar to Oklahoma's, or Texas A&M's, two teams that Missouri played earlier in the season. They're a "heavy zone" team. Iowa's defensive line may be the best one that Missouri will have faced this season. Iowa's DEs are bigger than their DTs, which is different. Iowa is so good against the run that they spread their LBs out, and dare you to run the football. The challenge for Iowa's LBs will be in matching up in coverage in the passing game.
As an aside, it will be interesting to see if Iowa sticks with its zone coverage, and its base defense, against Missouri, or if they'll implement a version of the Double Eagle defense that caused Missouri some difficulty the second half of the season.
Iowa's defense ranks 6th nationally against the run, and 15th in total defense, surrendering just 4.76 yards/play. And, they're 7th in scoring defense, yielding just 16.42 points/game.