Second Thoughts: Iowa

A second look at the Buckeyes' win on Saturday revealed that Ohio State and Iowa staged an interesting chess match Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Ohio State had more answers, both in terms of Xs and Os and Jimmies and Joes.

Iowa pretty much fired all its bullets and wasn't good enough.

I don't think the Hawkeyes made many mistakes, and they took advantage of some by the Buckeyes. They had a good game plan they executed well. The moment never looked too big for them despite playing a top five team on the road.

But in the end Iowa just didn't have enough players.

After giving up a few too many big pass plays in previous weeks, Iowa played its secondary more conservatively against Ohio State, which was probably the right call, but ultimately it didn't work. The Buckeyes were probably more efficient than their opponents expected them to be.

The Hawkeye defensive line gave the OSU front a good test, but ultimately the Buckeyes made enough room to let superior athletes in Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde take advantage of their ability to make things happen on the ground.

To make sure Iowa never changed its mind and started cheating against the run, Miller effectively worked constraint plays and short passes.

Then he hurt them as a scrambler when they dropped into a man coverage look with two deep safeties, so really the Hawkeyes had some answers – they just weren't good enough.

They wanted to make Ohio State execute, and for the most part the Buckeyes did. The result was nearly 500 yards of total offense, excellent balance between rushing and passing and a 10-point win.

Miller continued to develop, as I wrote in my column yesterday. He really seemed to be in control, getting the Buckeyes into the right play, finding the open man and running when the time was right. The light went on previously, but not it seems to be getting brighter.

Per Meyer's insistence, Dontre Wilson looked like a more active member of the offense. He served as a decoy on the long touchdown pass to Philly Brown and showed his speed on an outside run. His development allowed for the addition of a T-Gun formation with Carlos Hyde joining him in the backfield flanking Miller, a trio that could cause a lot of problems for opposing defenses.

The offensive line had trouble with Iowa stunts a couple of times in pass protection but for the most part play wed well. I think Iowa provided a good test for them. Tackle Carl Davis was particularly impressive for the Hawkeyes. He gave Marcus Hall some fits and managed to be a presence inside throughout the afternoon. He got the better of Linsley on one play, too, but obviously the Buckeyes ultimately won the war.

Jeff Heuerman continued to be an effective blocker on the edge, but they detached him a lot to spread out Iowa, taking advantage of the Hawkeyes' preference to play its three linebacker on the field at all times. That's an admirable goal, but I'm not sure how wise it is.

The Ohio State defense got a reminder of how teams can use tight formations to make an opponents' life difficult like the spread but in the inverse.

Sometimes Iowa was able to create an extra gap with two tight ends to the same side of the formation, letting them get the edge to create a running lane. This also caused some confusion in coverage and led to some uncovered receivers for quarterback Jake Rudock.

Rudcok got into a groove checking into runs away from the Ohio State three-technique, and Iowa was able to consistently both single block the Buckeye defensive line and get linemen to the second level. The OSU linebackers have had easier days. They rarely see that many linemen getting clean shots at them, but in this day and age when most are made to run and tackle rather than shed and pursue, I thought they handled it pretty well. That's how they were at least able to limit those small chunk plays from becoming big chunk plays.

Some in the football advanced statistic community will tell you they can prove establishing the run is not a real phenomenon, but Iowa proved otherwise because they seemed to get the Buckeyes preoccupied at times and that created some easier pass opportunities for Rudock.

I thought in watching the Hawkeyes in earlier games they were a bit formation predictable – run from under center in 21 and 12 personnel and pass in three-receiver shotgun sets – but they stuck more with power sets against Ohio State and that seemed to benefit them.

Ultimately, I think they ran out of game. When they fell behind and had to spread things out, they could hardly do anything because the spread calls for players to win individual matchups created by space instead of creating space with movement like play action from tight formations, and they couldn't do it.

Other notes and observations:

  • Probably not coincidence Ohio State went right to the flat with Heuerman in the begining, stretching the Iowa defense with a quick out after he went in motion.
  • The left side of Iowa's line was as impressive against the Buckeyes as it has been in other games. Tackle Brandon Scherff and guard Conor Boffeli are nice players. Tight ends C.J. Fiedoroicz and Jake Duzey were also very effective in the running game. Iowa's line overall is probably better than Wisconsin's. The Badgers' running game is more predicated on popping big plays with very talented running backs while Iowa's line has to do more heavy lifting for the Hawkeyes. This game featured two pretty good offensive lines that played well against good defensive lines.
  • Regarding the flag on Bradley Roby for targeting, I tend to agree with Urban Meyer's assessment that the rule was not really made to result in that play being an ejection. I think Roby tried to make a big hit without picking up a foul, but he just didn't quite pull it off because his aiming point was still too high even if it was lower than it might have been in the past. He was low enough at one point but changed his trajectory a fateful few inches that made all the difference. Color analyst Rod Gilmore put it perfectly when he said, "When you get above the numbers, you're in the danger zone." That is the bottom line. His earlier hit on running back Damon Bullock was perfectly legal because he didn't lead with the crown of his head and Bullock as a ball-carrier is considered able to defend himself.
  • The free safety Tanner Miller was caught looking in the backfield at fake inverted veer handoff to Wilson on Brown's 58-yard touchdown in the second quarter. The quarterback did a good job putting enough air under the ball to let receiver run under it.
  • It didn't count, but Miller's fourth-down scramble in the second quarter might have been the play where he really started being himself again. It happened shortly after he was sacked twice, and he had a nice run on an inverted veer keeper on the same drive. He should have been sacked by one if not two guys but kept the play alive then scrambled for a first down, but it was called back on a needless block in the back by Brown. There was room to run because the Hawkeyes were in a coverage Ohio State rarely sees because of Miller's ability to run - cover 2, man under. Would be interesting to know if Iowa called that as a response to Miller recently looking more reluctant to scramble or if that was just coincidence.
  • They stayed with it on the replay of fourth down and it put the safety Lowdermilk in position to help make it more difficult for Evan Spencer to pull in a pass in the end zone. Spencer had gotten behind the cornerback covering him off the line of scrimmage but Lowdermilk was there to bail him out.
  • The Buckeyes lost Iowa tight ends in coverage a few times, but Ryan Shazier looked good running down the seam with Fedorowicz on Iowa's last possession of the second quarter.
  • On Ohio State's first drive of third quarter, the Buckeyes ran against two high safeties twice then threw under off man coverage, all for healthy gains. Then Miller hit Wilson on a little flair and he had another nice pickup because again the safeties were deep. Later on the same drive Wilson showed how he has the ability to outflank a defense with his speed alone when Lowdermilk filled the alley but he was still able to bounce outside and elude the cornerback then slide up the sideline for a few more yards. Good defense, better run.
  • Tom Herman credited Miller with making the right read on the bubble screen touchdown pass to Devin Smith. The Buckeyes came out in an unbalanced again with trips and TE all right of center. Iowa had man to man on the outside.
  • Corey Brown got two blocks on Hyde's game-winning touchdown run, first near the line of scrimmage on a corner then down field picking up a scraping linebacker to give Hyde just that last bit of room he needed to leap across the goal line. Brown even had time to stop and celebrate for a minute in between when he saw Hyde regain his balance.

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