Iowa defense will be tall hurdle to clear

What can you expect out of Iowa's defense tomorrow? A tough challenge from a well-coached, fundamentally sound unit.

Statistically Speaking…

Statistically speaking, the Iowa defense Ohio State defense will be facing is the toughest they have seen thus far. Allowing only 13.3 points per game, the Hawkeyes rank second in the conference to Purdue and eighth nationally. Their struggles against the pass (yielding 232 yards per game) are more than made up for by their rushing defense, which gives up only 82.5 yards every week. They have 17 sacks and have given up only two more first downs than their counterpart, the Ohio State defense. They also bear striking similarities in the red-zone defense as their 71.4% ratio of opponents scoring is the third best in the conference, behind Ohio State (70%) and Northwestern (60%). Considering how dominant the Buckeyes have been on that side of the football, those final two statistics should speak volumes to anyone who cares to listen.

Alex Stepanovich's take on the Hawkeye defense is not exactly encouraging to any who are hoping the Buckeye offense can use this week as their breakout performance. "I think they are the most technically sound group we have faced in a long time, maybe since I have been here. They are real well coached. They are not real big up front, but what they do, they do extremely well."

The Mental Aspect…

As mentioned earlier in the Ohio State offense preview, the biggest problem for the Buckeyes is in their head. Over and over and over again, the players for OSU have simply said that they are not on the same page offensively, that they are not all blocking their assignments, that the coaches are emphasizing things that they just have to actually take onto the field…

Couple that with Craig Krenzel's assessment that this Iowa defense is putting their coaches' schemes and teaching to good use.

"They are very disciplined," he said. "They don't show a lot of different looks. They don't show a lot of different blitzes. They don't try to confuse you. They don't try to trick you. They line up in some base looks and coverages. You know, they say, ‘this is what we are going to run, this is how we're going to run it,' but they execute it almost to perfection. They make very few mistakes. They always have guys in the right gaps. They always have guys in the right zones…"

So, on the one hand you have a team that has not mentally pulled itself together for even an entire 60 minutes this season. Opposing them will be a team defense that is focused and fulfilling their assignments.

Any way you cut it that does not look promising.

The Personnel…

The Iowa defensive front is no stroll through the park. On the ends, Howard Hodges (#48) and Matt Roth (#31) were both preseason nominees for the Ted Hendricks trophy awarded to the best defensive end. Hodges, a first team all Big Ten member in 2002, was also named to the Outland Trophy watch list this year. Currently, Hodges has five sacks, 21 tackles, and six tackles for loss. All of the attention he is receiving has allowed his teammate, Roth, to roam through offensive backfields, terrorizing quarterbacks and ball carriers to the tune of 9 sacks and tackles for loss, three quarterback hurries, and 23 total tackles. In the middle will be a pair of run stoppers in Jared Clauss (#90) and Jonathan Babineaux (#45).

At linebacker, will be OLB Grant Steen (#42), OLB Chad Greenway (#18), and MLB Abdul Hodge (#52). Greenway actually leads the conference in tackles. For his part, Hodge is plugging the middle with 13 tackles against Michigan and double figures in three of the last four games. He ranks third in the Big Ten in total tackles. The third member of the group, outside linebacker Grant Steen, was named second team all Big Ten in 2002. He is a third year starter and a force to be reckoned with.

Statistically, if this team has a weakness on defense, it is in the secondary. However, their personnel appear anything but flawed when one looks closer, and just like the Ohio State defense in 2002, they hold their ground when necessary. Strong safety and Thorpe/Nagurski candidate Bob Sanders is expected to return this Saturday after missing the last several games with a foot injury. He was named to the first team all Big Ten by both coaches and media last season. Sean Consadine, like Will Allen for Ohio State, probably could have started last season and is proving it with his play. So far, he has blocked two punts this year to add to his two from last year and has 25 tackles, two interceptions, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. At cornerback, Jovan Johnson and Antwan Allen will look to contain the Ohio State wide receivers. Johnson played down the stretch in 2002 when D.J. Johnson was injured and performed well enough to keep the Hawkeyes on a roll. He has seven interceptions in 18 collegiate games and has five passes broken up this year to go with his three interceptions.

"They are a good sound group," echoed Michael Jenkins in a familiar refrain. "Coverage wise, they play a little bit off. They play man at times." He added, "They run to the ball well.

How it will play out…

Ohio State will not be able to run consistently against this defense if they resort to the normal plays between the tackles. Because of that, they will likely seek to spread out the Iowa defenders with pitches and sweeps and count on outnumbering the Hawkeyes at the point of attack by taking out their linebacker and strong safety Bob Sanders. For their part, Iowa will try to keep this from happening through their disciplined play and speed to the football. Also, look for Ohio State to run several draws and delays and perhaps even a screen or reverse to slow the pass rush.

With the obvious deficiencies in their running game and Iowa's obvious strength in that defensive department, the Buckeyes will likely to try and throw the football more (assuming the weather cooperates this week). A trio of Roy Hall, Drew Carter, and Michael Jenkins with Hartsock or Ross running out into the flat would present the smaller Iowa defensive backs with real trouble. Only Sean Consadine is listed at 6'0" in the Iowa media guide with Sanders and Johnson both under 5'10". Further, a toss sweep with Ross running behind Hartsock, Hall, and Jenkins could be brutally tough on a smallish secondary. To stop the pass and other atypical OSU plays, Iowa will look to rattle Krenzel early and often with solid coverage and the occasional blitz.

In the end, the bottom line in this game will be the question of who wins the battle at the line of scrimmage. If the OSU offensive line gets pushed around again like they did in Wisconsin, the Buckeyes will lose. If the Ohio State offensive line shows up and seals off penetration by holding their blocks and getting physical, then Krenzel will likely have a field day against the smaller defensive backs of the Hawkeyes.

Ohio State is angry, and the line does not like hearing whispers that they are playing soft. OSU wins late.

OSU 27 – Iowa 23

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