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KEYS TO THE GAME: IOWA HAWKEYES VS. NORTH DAKOTA STATE BISON

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Be afraid. Be very afraid.

NCAA Football: Iowa State at Iowa Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Iowa takes on North Dakota State tomorrow at 11 a.m. inside Historic Kinnick Stadium. North Dakota State? Come on, John. Isn’t that just an FCS team?

This is NOT your typical FCS team.

Allow me to be the 6,000th person to remind you that North Dakota State has won five (FIVE!!!!!) straight National Championships. As Kirk Ferentz pointed out in his press conference on Tuesday, to win a championship at the FCS level you have to win 4 postseason games. That means NDSU has won 20 STRAIGHT playoff games.

I don’t care what level you play at. That is INSANE.

ESPN FPI (I only reference it when it’s in my favor) predicts that the Bison would be favored against 46% of FBS teams. Don’t let the “FCS” acronym fool you.

I repeat: This is NOT your typical FCS team.

I am terrified for this game. We’re still getting to know each other, but you probably didn’t know that I’m an accountant by day (please, don’t stop reading). I go to work every day and find myself surrounded by graduates of the University of Notre Dame. Domers take a lot of pride in their football team and relish every opportunity to rip on yours. There would be no better chance for them to take cheap shots at Iowa (and at myself) than if the Hawkeyes happens to lose on Saturday to an FCS team.

But John, doesn’t ESPN’s FPI also predict that Iowa has a 91% chance of winning this game? To that I say: Remember when the 2009 Orange Bowl Champion Iowa Hawkeyes literally SHOULD have lost to Northern Iowa at home?

Calm down, John, you say. Iowa is going to smoke these guys, you say. You may be right. I may be crazy. But I’m not underestimating North Dakota State, and neither should you, and, for the love of all that is holy, neither should Iowa. Here’s what I’d like the Hawks to be focused on come game time tomorrow.

Make NDSU 1-Dimensional

In just two games, North Dakota State has managed to rush for 255 yards/game, which ranks 14th at the FCS level. To put that in perspective, Iowa has Thunder and Lightning and has averaged 205 yards/game (51st in the FBS). The Bison run the ball effectively (5.6 yards/carry so far in 2016) and they run it a lot (91 rushes compared to Iowa’s 65). However, similar to Iowa, they like balance. NDSU has passed for 225 yards/game so far in 2016.

Their offensive balance makes them tough to defend, but their entire game plan revolves around being able to both run and throw the football. 2-dimensional offenses do not enjoy being forced into 1-dimension. Iowa needs to find a way to do this to North Dakota State by either taking away the run game or the pass game. Forcing the Bison to pass or forcing them to run will throw off their rhythm, and I’m not sure that they have enough weapons to survive being 1-dimensional.

Go Long

The Bison are balanced on offense, but they show signs on weakness on defense. They rank 90th in the FCS in passing defense, allowing an average of 272 yards/game through the air. There is serious potential for the Hawkeyes to take advantage of what appears to be a weak NDSU secondary. C.J. Beathard and Company are coming off a wonderful performance against rival Iowa State, and they should look to carry that momentum into this game. If the wide receivers continue to block as well as they have, Iowa could bubble-screen the Bison to death, but I think they should take a few shots down the field early in this game (I’m calling on my boy, Jay Scheel, to help with this). Spreading the field and keeping this secondary honest will open things up for Iowa’s already strong rushing attack. The running backs will be another critical part of this game, but I already promised that I would stop including them in my “Keys to the Game,” because otherwise they would be in here every week. So I am not going to do it.

Thunder and Lightning

OK. So I lied. I can’t resist my football man crush on LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley, and you know what? You shouldn’t resist yours, either.

Take Care of the Football

It seems obvious, right? Protect the football, win the game. However, as are most things in life, this is easier said than done. Iowa has more depth at probably every position on the field and they are both bigger and faster than NDSU. The Hawkeyes need to put their typical stamp on this game—they need to avoid mistakes and force their opponent into making their own. The easiest way to play mistake-free is to take care of the football. I just don’t see a way that Iowa could lose this game if they manage to do that.

The Prediction

First of all, I really hope Allen Lazard saw this. Secondly, I completely agree with Daniels. This is the best team that Iowa has faced so far in 2016. They are balanced, fundamentally sound, and extremely successful (all things that Iowa State is not). The idea of coming into Kinnick and playing an FBS team doesn’t phase them, and I think we will see proof of that in the first half. Expect this game to be close at the halfway point (something like 17-14). While I have a lot of respect for North Dakota State and think they certainly have a chance of winning this game, I expect the depth of Iowa’s roster to show as they pull away sometime in the 4th quarter. The Hawkeyes will enter B1G play undefeated, and I will be able to show my face at work this week.

Final score: Iowa 37, NDSU 24

Go Hawks.