Opponent: Stanford Cardinal (11-2, 8-1 Pac-12 South, No. 6 CFP, Coaches; No. 5 AP)
Friday, January 1, 4 p.m. CST (2 p.m. local), Rose Bowl Stadium (Pasadena, CA)
Kickoff weather: 65 and clear, but temperatures dropping into the lower 50s by the end of the game.
Some Stanford band member: 4 o'clock your local time? Just a shame it doesn't kick off 20 minutes later, if you get what I mean.
I get it.
Some Stanford band member: You know, because
I said I get it.
Some Stanford band member: Because 4:20.
WHEN STANFORD HAS THE BALL
The Cardinal offense isn't exactly shrouded in mystery; Christian McCaffrey is the alpha dog here, leading the team in rushing, receiving and return yards en route to breaking Barry Sanders' all-purpose yardage record and scoring 13 touchdowns in the process. McCaffrey's scintillating campaign is the product of two dangerous factors:
1) Heisman-level talent;
2) An offense designed to feature him as effectively as possible.
Indeed, just about the only thing McCaffrey doesn't do at an elite level is pound the ball in from short yardage, and it's not that Stanford's offense thusly lacks there, it's that it's got senior Remound Wright to do that. Wright's numbers look pedestrian—77 rushes, 209 yards—until you see the 13 touchdowns and realize exactly what his role is.
And while Stanford has eased up on the eight-lineman jumbo packages a tad as it seeks to get playmakers in space, David Shaw still has that formation at his disposal, and it's still—wouldn't you know it—extremely effective. It's a spice, though, not the main dish; so is Kevin Hogan's mobility. We should expect to see Hogan get somewhere around five designed runs on Friday, and though Shaw often uses those runs in clutch situations, that level of predictability hasn't led to teams stopping him very often. Think of Hogan as a Mitch Leidner that can actually throw worth a damn; it's a bit of a terror. That Hogan has targets like All-Pac 12 tight end Austin Hooper and Mr. Catch Of The Freaking Decade himself Francis Owusu also at his disposal doesn't help matters for Iowa any.
Iowa Hawkeyes (@TheIowaHawkeyes) December 29, 2015
It's probably fair if we get to use all of these guys at once.
Iowa's not going to be helpless, but let's be honest: there's a reason Stanford has averaged over 37 points per game this season and hasn't been held under 30 since their lifeless season debut at Northwestern. The team is loaded with talent, from the skill positions on down to the offensive line, which boasts two first-team All-Pac 12 starters and a couple other guys who garnered honorable mention. Iowa's as close to full strength as it can ask to be, sans Drew Ott, and it's in for probably its toughest test of the season.
Some Stanford band member: We know all about tough tests.
Oh, because you go to an academically rigorous school like Stanford? Yeah I bet it's prett—
Some Stanford band member: No, we have to test positive for weed and at least one other substance or we're kicked out of the band.
WHEN IOWA HAS THE BALL
It's hard to imagine a better stage for an Iowa tailback's senior sendoff than right here in Pasadena; Jordan Canzeri was in full-on boss mode before injuries curtailed his 2015 campaign, and he's just 24 yards away from cracking 1,000 yards on the season. To have the opportunity to hit such a milestone on a stage like this is outstanding and a testament to Canzeri's hard work in his Hawkeye career.
Of course, 24 yards won't do much for Iowa's cause. Getting to 124 would be a whole lot better. And really, considering the Cardinal attack, 240 might have to do it. Stanford's rushing defense is all right—not great, not terrible, but all right—and the defense seems designed to funnel ballcarriers to stud linebacker Blake Martinez, who has a sensational 132 tackles on the season (by comparison, the next closest is safety Dallas Lloyd, who's only 80 tackles away from tying the team lead).
Pure speculation here, but I think the most chess of any of the bowl prep is going to be on Iowa's side of the ball. That's not to say Iowa's defense can afford to look the same as in November—Hogan mentioned knowing Iowa's cues on its Raider package—but a rushing offense with as many wrinkles as Iowa's needs to be able to change those up substantially when a defense as athletic and smart as Stanford's gets a month to study it. Stanford has the luxury of telling its best player "go do Christian McCaffrey things"; Iowa's got to try a little harder to engineer its big plays. And it does that well! It's not by accident that the Hawkeyes scored 13 offensive touchdowns from outside the red zone this season. But there are, undoubtedly, several tendencies that Iowa will have to break if it wants to spring Canzeri and the other backs for big plays.
Iowa's rushing game will also need to do a better job of limiting tackles-for-loss, because Stanford logged 46 on the year (not counting sacks), while Iowa allowed 48. By way of comparison, Iowa's defense—one of the best in the nation against the run—stopped only 29 rushes for a loss. Some of that is a function of Iowa simply rushing more often than its opponents (530 vs. 435), but it's still a higher rate of failure, which is troublesome. Stanford's defensive line has the ability to beat one-on-one blocks, and probably the most capable of the Cardinal is DE Aziz Shittu, who—Shittu not—has a team-leading 10.5 tackles-for-loss on the season en route to a first-team All-Pac 12 nod.
Still, Stanford cedes 4.6 yards per carry on the year, and Iowa rushes for 4.7. On the flipside, Iowa allows 3.4, while the Cardinal rushes for 5.1. Split both down the middle—because that's totally how stats work—and Iowa's rushing attack looks to be slightly more potent than Stanford's on Friday.
Some Stanford band member: Hey, we're going to trash the hotel room later if you want in.
Is that a drugs euphemism, or...?
Some Stanford band member: No we are literally going to trash the hotel.
Why does *anybody* like you?
Stanford has Christian McCaffrey as a return specialist, and though Desmond King isn't on McCaffrey's level (few are), he's close enough that this isn't a glaring relative strength for the Cardinal.
Kicker Conrad Ukropina is one of the best Iowa will have faced this season, with range past 50 yards and 17-for-19 field goal kicking overall. Of course, if Stanford goes for it on 4th down instead, it has converted on 12 of 14 opportunities this year, so bend-but-don't-break-until-you-get-a-third-down-stop might not be terribly effective by itself; Iowa's going to need some turnovers.
Punter Alex Robinson is fine, and this season he has ably limited both touchbacks (two) and return yardage (55 yards) so there aren't a whole lot of hidden yards waiting to be discovered unless Iowa makes a great play or Robinson makes an unscheduled stop in Shanksburg. For the Hawkeyes, Dillon Kidd has slipped in recent weeks, but perhaps he's just not a cold-weather punter? Let's ignore the 35.6 yards per punt he had during the B1G Championship. At any rate, he looks more like 2014 Dillon Kidd, and 2014 Dillon Kidd was not very good. Iowa needs very good this week.
Some Stanford band member: Sometimes during our shows, I wear a costume, or I don't wear pants!
You all try way, way too hard.
Iowa 30, Stanford 23
Like we're picking against Iowa. C'mon.