Iowa opens the new year tomorrow in the Outback Bowl against LSU. The Tigers are favored by a touchdown, and are from the mighty SEC, and beat #2 Auburn, and have the best receiver duo in the country... But I think Iowa has a good shot at upsetting them by dictating the way the game is played. The Hawks will need to be aggressive on defense and establish the run on offense. Make it a grind it out, field position type of game. Do that and I think the experience advantage Iowa has at QB can be the difference. So, here are the keys to tomorrow's game.
Unleash the linebackers
Trailing by 14 at halftime against Michigan, Iowa needed to make something happen to get back in the game. Phil Parker found that something by getting very aggressive with his 3 senior linebackers. They blitzed, and forced fumbles, and broke up passes, and knocked down Devin Gardner over and over again. The Wolverine offense became completely ineffective as Gardner struggled and didn't score again.
The next week against Nebraska, was more of the same. The linebackers put a beating on Ron Kellogg III and forced him to make multiple mistakes. The linebackers finished that game with 28 tackles, 7 TFL, 2 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions, 3 pass breakups, 2 sacks, and 2 QB hurries. They were dominant.
Tomorrow in the Outback Bowl, the linebackers will have a chance to again be a disruptive force by being aggressive. LSU is starting a true freshman, Anthony Jennings, at QB...and it'll be his first game with extended action. We're expecting him to run some zone read and make plays with his feet. But hopefully the Iowa LBs will be able to force the inexperienced QB into mistakes like they did with Gardner and Kellogg.
The key to all of this though, is for the defensive line to play well up front. They'll need to keep contain against the mobile Jennings and hold their gaps against what will probably be a run heavy offense. The good news here, is that after missing much of the B1G schedule, Dom Alvis is finally healthy and should be able to contribute at DE. The tackles, Louis Trinca-Pasat and Carl Davis, have been very good, so adding an experienced DE should help solidify the D line.
Really what can't happen, is to allow Jennings to sit back comfortably and have time to find he two 1000-yard receivers in Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham.
Find the hot hand early
The Iowa running back rotation really started working well the last 3 weeks of the season. Jordan Canzeri has earned carries and has been making the most of it. He averaged almost 10 yards per carry against Nebraska and rushed for 165 yards and a TD against Purdue. He has had the hot hand.
At the same time though, Mark Weisman has been healthier and playing really well. He's been back to his bruiser ways, pounding forward for short gains and first downs.
Together, they put together a really good performance against Nebraska. Weisman pounded the defense early, then Canzeri came in as a change of pace and was successful. Later in the game, Canzeri was able to move the ball between the twenties and Weisman cleaned up in the redzone.
Tomorrow's game will start with Weisman for sure, but I'd like to see Canzeri get carries early, maybe even the first drive if Iowa can get a few first downs. If he is able to get anything going, then keep feeding him the ball. And then use Weisman situationally. Just try to figure it out early and keep the running game working.
Get Rudock comfortable
Jake Rudock has stood strong in the face of everything thrown at him this year. A tough loss in his first outing, his first road start against, a knee injury, some bad interceptions, a 14-point halftime deficit, etc... So I don't think a second knee injury, his first bowl game, against a ranked SEC team will phase him.
Still, he's coming off injuries to both of his legs and has at least been limited in bowl preparation. So, kind of like when an offensive coordinator calls a pass right after a QB throws an interception, I'd like to see Greg Davis give Rudock a few throws early to get him going. Maybe even let him run the ball.
LSU will likely be throwing in bodies to stop the run. And they have a deep defense. 23 different players have at least 10 tackles and 22 have a TFL. But they have given up plenty of yards and lost games when opposing quarterbacks play well.
A hidden gem
The last time Iowa played LSU it was Warren Holloway, who hadn't ever caught a TD pass prior to the catch, who was the hero. Kirk Ferentz often talks about needing good stories to emerge for Iowa to have a good season. Well, to win against LSU, Iowa may need to good story from a player we may not be thinking about too much. Damond Powell sounds like a good choice. He's shown some explosiveness this year, but has been held back a little due to his apparent lack of knowledge of the playbook. With an extra month of practice and studying, I'd hope he'd have a better understanding of things now and can be a bigger factor in the offense.
Or maybe somebody like LeShun Daniels or a backup tight end like Jake Duzey. The type of guy who has seen action this year, but are far from being stars on the offense. I'm not sure if there are enough carries to go around for Daniels to get many, but Duzey had a big game against Ohio State and should get his chances.
Or anybody really. Somebody who breaks a tackles and score a long TD, or comes through with a timely sack, or makes a great special teams play. Iowa's needs that good story.
It's a total cliche, but bowl games are often won by the team that more-so wants to be playing in that bowl. LSU wanted to compete for a SEC title...Iowa was coming off a 4-8, bowl-less season. The Outback Bowl is the better destination for the Hawkeyes. That extra motivation will prove valuable in the trenches. Iowa's front seven will be disruptive and give the freshman QB a hard time. He'll make mistakes and won't be able to sustain long TD drives. LSU instead settles for a bunch on FGs.
On offense, a completely healthy and well-rested Weisman will wear down the LSU D and Canzeri will provide a spark when he comes in. The run game will set up some play-action and we'll see Powell once again show off his speed.
Final Score: Iowa 27 - LSU 23