I KNOW. Iowa is not going to come out and try and keep pace with the Ohio State Buckeyes this weekend. It’s just not Kirk Ferentz’s style. But the Hawkeyes are going to need a ton of big plays from quarterback Nate Stanley if they’re going to win this game. They still might not even if he does! Ohio State is great!
Really, everything is pointing against Nate Stanley in this game. The opponent is arguably the best Iowa will face all year. They’re staffed by talented coaches who are very good at their jobs. Iowa’s sideline is still working its way through an identity crisis on offense. Though the Hawkeyes defense is really good, they’ll bend a lot but potentially cede some points. (It should be noted, Iowa has not given up 40 points at home since 1999)
Down to brass tacks - this defense is as talented as Iowa will face. They’re currently allowing 18.2 points and 302 yards per game, good for 18th and 2nd in the nation, respectively.
They do a lot of this by applying a ton of pressure to their opponents’ backfield. Against Penn State, they tallied 13 tackles for loss. Whatever you thought of Iowa’s defense against Saquon Barkley, Ohio State’s was better. Barkley only had 44 yards on 21 carries. SAQUON BARKLEY. It really doesn’t tell the whole story, as he accumulated 36 yards on one rush so the remaining 8 came on 20. That’s nuts.
Their defensive line is arguably their greatest strength. Hawkeye Gamefilm identified Nick Bosa as the man to watch, calling him “hell on wheels.” Bosa leads the team with 4 sacks and 10 tackles for loss while the defense has tallied 19 sacks overall.
The Buckeyes’ young secondary is the weak link of the defense, if there is one. Though they’ve snagged about an interception per game, they’ve given up 6.3 yards per attempt (11.2 yards per completion). In the piece linked above, Land Grant Holy Land noted they were also the key to facilitating the corralling of Saquon Barkley. And that’s where Nate Stanley comes in...
Without beating a dead horse, on the season, Ohio State has allowed only 2.9 yards per carry. As much as Iowa would love to beat them on the ground, it’s simply not going to happen. In Urban Meyer’s press conference, after mentioning the 3 tight end lineup, he said basically the same thing every other opposing coach has indicated since Ferentzian football took hold in Iowa City: “The thing I love about their coach, who is a friend*, is that consistency is impeccable. It's like so many people change and always grasping for different ways of doing things -- he's as consistent, tough as you can get. I think he does a great job.”
So, he knows what Iowa is going to try to do - try to get the game into the fourth quarter with a chance to win. That’s where Stanley comes in.
He’s been very good so far this year, with his responsibilities increasing week-to-week. Iowa will need to attack the slight deficiencies which exist in this rock solid Buckeye defense. That’s through the air.
In the lead-up to last week, Scott Dochterman noted Iowa averaged almost 13 yards per attempt on first down with a completion percentage of 59.4%. The only problem? The Hawks passed on only 36.7% of first downs. That number will need to be pushed much closer to 50%, not only because it is very successful but also because it will improve Iowa’s already diminished prospects in the run game.
The more Nate has the ball in his hands, however, it’s important he avoids the stupid mistakes which have been the only mole on his season so far. Though he’s cut down on the fumbling, it’s still a concern, as his 4 fumbles lost (6 total) rank 5th worse in the nation. He’ll also need to navigate the pocket against the high-quality defensive line previously mentioned.
Ultimately, this is a classic “house money” game. Iowa has no outside expectations of winning. Ohio State is coming down from an emotional high of their comeback victory over the Nittany Lions. It’s college football, it’s the Big Ten - weird things happen, especially on the road. If Nate Stanley can manage the game, the pocket, and get the ball into the hands of Iowa’s playmakers, they might just have a shot.
* Urban Meyer and Kirk Ferentz could not describe their relationship more differently as Kirk noted in his press conference: “I've seen [Meyer] at Big Ten meetings when I go to them. I go to the ones that are mandatory. I'm always there, believe me. I'm not in that league where I can skip meetings that are mandatory. I wouldn't do that because I don't want to get fined.”