Surging Run Game To Face Stiff Challenge

Just in time for November, Ohio State's run game has gone from a concern of fans in the first half of the season to a dominating strength thanks to a few tweaks that have worked well. But that part of the OSU offense will be tested when the Buckeyes take on Iowa's excellent run defense that ranks first in the Big Ten.

Much like Ohio State, Iowa prides itself on shutting down opposing teams' running games.

Last year, the Hawkeyes entered their showdown with the Buckeyes for the Big Ten title allowing only 118.7 yards per game on the ground. Ohio State responded by running 51 times for 229 yards, a season high allowed by Iowa, in the thrilling 27-24 win that sent the Buckeyes to Pasadena.

"They were one of the few teams last year that did that to us," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. "Not many teams did that to us. They took that ball and jammed it right down our throats last year that second half.

"We better strap it up and be ready (this time). A tough outfit we're playing."

As Ferentz alluded to, the battle of the trenches could be what decides Saturday's rematch in Iowa City when the eighth-ranked Buckeyes take on the 21st-ranked Hawkeyes in a game with major Big Ten title implications.

The game will match up the two best rush defenses in the Big Ten, and the difference is as thin as the eye of a needle. Iowa has allowed 868 yards on the ground in 10 games this season, while OSU is right behind with 869 given up.

Iowa's rush defense is so strong because of a bevy of talent up front. While the team will be without a number of injured linebackers – including starters Bruce Davis, Tyler Nielsen and Jeff Tarpinian, who aggravated an injury vs. Northwestern and is likely out – the front four is one of the best in the game.

Everyone knows the name of Adrian Clayborn, a first-team All-Big Ten choice last year who has 42 stops including seven tackles for loss this year. But the Hawkeyes also boast the best tackle combination in the league in senior Karl Klug, who has 46 tackles and 8½ for loss, and improving space-eater Mike Daniels, whose 11 TFL lead the team.

"They're so strong and they're so technique sound," Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. "And their technique is a little different than some. They're a little bit thicker on you, a little bit stronger on you as opposed to playing an edge and so it's a little bit different technique that you're facing. They're not real tricky, although their front twists a lot and gives you a lot of problems, but they're not really tricky.

"They're just very, very powerful and very consistent."

The Buckeyes will counter with a rushing game that seems to be firing on all cylinders in recent games. Ohio State piled up 263 yards on the ground vs. Minnesota on Oct. 30 and followed that last week with 314 against Penn State, the most against a Big Ten opponent since piling up 317 vs. Northwestern in 2005.

All that came after Ohio State looked like a throwing offense to start the season. The Buckeyes averaged 29.0 passes per game in the opening six games, but the number has dropped to 22.5 in the last four games. The total number of tosses has gone down in each of the last four games, bottoming out at 13 vs. the Nittany Lions.

According to Michael Brewster, that has helped open up the running game in recent weeks, especially for junior Dan Herron.

"It's a combination of things," Brewster said. "People have to respect the pass and they can't load the box up. We've been finding the schemes that work best for our line, and Boom has really settled down and he's been running the ball well and making nice cutbacks and finding holes."

Herron's running seems to have sparked the offense, with the back averaging 105.3 yards per Big Ten game after he had 48.0 in the nonconference season. He was at his best vs. Penn State, hitting the hole as hard as ever and racking up a career-high 190 yards on just 21 carries.

He also showed more elusiveness than ever and an improved ability to set up runs. That was shown on one early 33-yard carry in which he looked inside, bounced outside and then broke the tackle of cornerback D'Anton Lynn before racing up the left sideline.

"I think I'm feeling pretty comfortable right now with the offensive line," Herron said. "I think we're getting better every week. That's what you're supposed to do when you go out and practice. You're supposed get better and better."

The schemes also included a good mix of I-formation football and a few spread running looks that kept Penn State off balance. Ohio State has largely done away with offensive guard pull plays – including the famed "Dave" – in this year's rushing offense, but a new look on Saturday included running the inverted veer out of the shotgun.

Terrelle Pryor ended up running nine times for 49 yards, while Brandon Saine had eight totes for 46 yards. Saine's best run was a 19-yard gain on OSU's first touchdown drive in which he hit the edge on a shotgun run and powered through two linebackers.

Add it all up and the matchup will be strength vs. strength in Iowa City on Saturday.

"If you want to be a contender in November, you have to run the ball," senior left guard Justin Boren said. "I think last year, the last three games against Penn State, Iowa and Michigan, we ran for 200 or more every game. That's what we have to do."

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