5 Questions: Ohio State at Iowa

For Ohio State's trip to Iowa City, we are looking at special teams, turnovers, potential Iowa defensive surprises, the Buckeyes' problem with slow starts and Ohio State's plan on offense. All five areas could have a huge impact on the game.

1. How will Ohio State attack the Iowa defense?

Terrelle Pryor could barely contain his excitement for the Buckeye offensive game plan this week, but Ohio State offensive coordinator Jim Bollman was not about to give up any details when asked what we might see.

Pryor dropped a hint the Buckeyes might try to turn up the tempo against an Iowa defense that has struggled against no-huddle offenses, and he said to expect him to run more this week.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz knows Ohio State has options.

"It's going to be tough because they've got a couple different personalities," Ferentz told reporters in Iowa City this week. "They were wide open in the Rose Bowl, have that capability. But they also can run the ball right at you and make it tough to stop you."

Last season, Ohio State took advantage of that by pounding out 229 yards against them last season in Columbus.

2. Will Iowa bring any wrinkles on defense?

Under long-time defensive coordinator Norm Parker, the Hawkeyes have developed a reputation for playing stout 4-3 defense with a cover-2 look in the secondary.

That protects the Hawkeyes from giving up big plays, but it puts pressure on the front seven to play tough against the run without an extra defender near the line of scrimmage.

Iowa has occasionally dropped standout safety Tyler Sash into the box for a different look this season, and the Hawkeyes will mix in some man coverage, such as on a well-publicized play in which Sash intercepted a Michigan State pass and lateraled the ball to teammate Micah Hyde, who returned it for a touchdown.

"This late in the year, if they came with something new, it would probably be something we've experienced," Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said Tuesday. "If you were opening with them and you spent the whole spring and the whole preseason playing against what they do and they came out totally different, it might shock you. They won't. They do what they do and they do it so well. They believe in it. Their players believe in it. They're very, very physical at what they do and the schemes back that.

"In '06 they blitzed us a lot more than they ever did. They came after us pretty good, but it was within their system. It wasn't as if they'd never run those blitzes, they just did their blitzes rather than eight percent of the time they did it 15 percent of the time and it felt like they were blitzing every down."

3. Who will win the turnover battle?

We have tried to shy away from this one all season because of the central role turnovers play in most football games, but this week there is no getting around it: Protecting the ball will be key.

Ohio State enters the contest Saturday at Iowa City tied for No. 1 in the nation in turnover margin at plus-1.4 per game, and Iowa is in a fifth-place tie in that category.

With 17 interceptions and nine fumbles recovered, Ohio State is better at taking the ball away than Iowa (15 interceptions, four fumbles), but the Hawkeyes are tied for No. 1 in the country with only seven giveaways (four interceptions, three fumbles). Ohio State has 10 interceptions with only a pair of lost fumbles.

4. Can Ohio State avoid another slow start?

The Ohio State defense has allowed an opening-drive touchdown in all three road games this season, and the Buckeye offense has struggled early in the last three games against teams currently .500 or above.

Meanwhile, Iowa has outscored opponents 100-33 in the first halves of games so far, including a 30-0 open salvo against Michigan State.

Ohio State already found out at Wisconsin what can happen when spotting a ranked team a lead on the road. The Buckeyes will want to avoid a similar fate this time around.

5. And what about special teams?

You knew this was coming, right?

"We always say when you go on the road that you better have superior special teams," Tressel said.

Ohio State put together another good week on special teams last Saturday at home against Penn State, but this week they face an Iowa team they know is dangerous in the return game because the Hawkeyes' Derrell Johnson-Koulianos returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown against them last season.

The talented wide receiver known as "DJK" is back for one more shot at his home-state school, but Iowa has had problems of its own on special teams.

The Hawkeyes allowed a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in a 34-27 loss at Arizona, and a botched field goal and blocked point after try proved to be crucial in a 31-30 home loss to Wisconsin.

The Badgers also kept their game-winning final drive alive with a successful fake punt.

"Wisconsin fakes a punt against Iowa when they're the road team," Tressel said. "That was the difference in the game. That was an even game with Iowa probably really outplaying them until that moment."

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