This week I am about as non-optimistic as I get. Ohio State looks like the much better team and is rightfully a big favorite. So, the theme of the days is just "find a way." Maybe it's a bunch of crazy turnovers. Maybe it's a blocked punt. Maybe just a lucky bounce. Iowa isn't going to just line up and play a "normal" game and win this thing. They are going to have to find another way.
Find a way to run
In the first 5 games of the season, Iowa was able to keep the run game very simple and have a lot of success. Zone to the left, zone to the right, rinse, repeat. But against Michigan State, Mark Weisman was injured, the zone to the left wasn't working, and the run was completely abandoned. Jake Rudock is a good quarterback, but isn't to the point where he can win a game throwing it 40+ times with no run support.
Ohio State's defense isn't quite Michigan State good, but it is still excellent. Their front seven will be a real challenge for Iowa's offensive line and will probably be able to keep the zone to the left, zone to the right plan from working.
So, Greg Davis is going to need to dig a little deeper and come up with a game plan that allows the Hawkeyes to establish some sort of run game. Iowa will need to find way to stretch the OSU defense, keep them honest, and keep them guessing.
Find a way to score
The offense is better this year...right? It feels like it anyway. But when you start digging through the numbers, it's pretty clear which side of the ball isn't getting things done. It feels like I write about it every single week, but Iowa needs to finish drives. Sure, there are some caveats, but the red zone performance has been bad. (Northwestern failed against OSU because it settled for FGs too often.) There have been more big plays this year, but there are often come at the beginning of drives instead of going for a TD. The offense needs to figure out how to get more than their 23 points average to win this game.
Iowa probably will need a non-offensive score to stay in this game. Take out any shot at a punt return TD...maybe this can be the week that the new kickoff return formation can pay dividends and get Jordan Cotton going. Braxton Miller has been turnover prone, so Iowa needs to take advantage of any bad throws or when the ball pops out.
Find a way to shorten the game
I like when Iowa goes uptempo from its no-huddle offense. I like it a lot. But I don't think it is the right plan for tomorrow. Iowa has had success (kind of...not like winning success, but keeping it close success) against OSU in the past by turning the game into a slugfest. Granted Jim Tressel is no longer at the helm, so we won't have two sides playing slow and conservative. But if Iowa manages to limit the number of possession in this game, hold on to the ball, and keep the score generally low, then I think they have a chance at staying in it into the second half. If there as any way to put together those grinding 5-minute, 12-play drives, that would be fantastic.
On the other side of the ball, it'll be making OSU sustain long drives as well. The secondary needs to improve and not give up big plays. (Wisconsin lost to OSU because it gave up a bunch of long TD throws.) The front seven needs to continue to be stout against the run. Somehow, Connor Cook looked amazing against the Iowa D a couple weeks ago. Braxton Miller is a better quarterback and if Iowa hasn't fixed some things during its off week, then it could be painful.
Find a way to make adjustments
Ohio State's defense has been very good in the second half this year. Against Northwestern, they were trailing at halftime and had given up 20 points. In the second half, the Wildcats only scored twice for 10 points and OSU was able to come back and win. Same sort of story against Wisconsin, except OSU had a nice lead at halftime thanks to a hail mary at the end of the second quarter. But in the second half, Wisconsin struggled to move the ball and also scored just 10 points.
Iowa had a similar story against Michigan State. The Spartan defense adjusted to the pass heavy attack Greg Davis was trying, and Iowa had no counter. The games Iowa has been successful in the second half, is mostly because they were able to wear their opponent's defense down by pounding the ball with Weisman. I don't think that'll happen tomorrow, so Davis will need to make adjustments at halftime give Iowa a shot.
Immediately following the MSU game, I was feeling a 14-42 type of game...kind of like Michigan last year. But I'm feeling a little bit better about it now. I think part of the spiral of doom in the MSU game was all the freaking injuries and I'm hopeful that won't be a problem tomorrow. I think the defense is good enough to keep OSU in check, but the offense won't be able to quite keep up.
Final Score: Iowa 20 - OSU 31