Despite playing in the same conference for decades, Ohio State and Iowa are pretty much complete strangers - because of the way schedules have shaken out with expansion, the two don’t meet each other very often on the gridiron, last playing in 2013. You’d have to go back a few years further than that to find the last time the two teams played in Iowa City, which was a 20-17 Ohio State victory in 2010. It’s weird to say the Hawkeyes would be so unfamiliar with a team they’ve played over sixty times in the history of their program.
To get to know the Buckeyes a bit better, we enlisted the help of Colton Denning from Land-Grant Holy Land, SB Nation’s premier Ohio State blog. We asked about how to stop J.T. Barrett, the three-headed monster in their running game, what it would take for Iowa to defeat the Bucks, and of course, his prediction for the game this weekend.
Max: Ohio State comes into this week's matchup ranked #6 in the CFP rankings and finally have a signature win after last week's incredible comeback against the Nittany Lions. Are the 2017 Buckeyes a National Championship contender?
Colton: They're definitely a national title contender after last week's win, which, as you mentioned, was really their first signature win of the season. I think there's a legit case for them being the best team in the country, but #6 in the CFP rankings is a fair spot, given their head-to-head loss to Oklahoma, plus the resumes of the other teams in front of them. Ultimately though, if they're able to take care of business the next 5 weeks, they'll be right back in the playoff.
Max: J.T. Barrett has been absolutely electric this season, completing about 70% of his passes and passing to the tune of a 25/1 TD to INT ratio. The only team to really keep him in check was Oklahoma - what did they do to disrupt the flow of the passing game?
Colton: The two biggest things OU's defense did were generate pressure and disrupt the timing of Ohio State's wide receivers. Barrett was sacked three times and was on the move all night, which led to almost non-existent timing from the passing game. The receivers struggled to separate, which keeps looking worse and worse in retrospect when you look at the trash fire OU's secondary has been the last month. They also didn't do themselves any favors by giving running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber only 16 total carries, despite combining for over 6 yards per carry. In all, it was basically the playoff loss against Clemson all over again (But this time they actually scored!).
Max: Ohio State boasts a formidable ground game, with all rushers combining for about 2,000 yards already this season. Who are the rushers to know, and how does Ohio State deploy them?
Colton: Barrett, Dobbins, and Weber are really the only players Ohio State has run the ball with in non-garbage time. Barrett isn't terribly fast, but almost always makes the right decision in the read-option game, and if they need a first down on the ground, No. 16 is carrying the ball. Weber's had a nagging hamstring injury that's limited his effectiveness, but he's a true power back and a tough inside runner. He's scored five rushing touchdowns the past four weeks, so you can count on seeing him whenever Ohio State is in the redzone. Dobbins is the best of the bunch, and he's as good as the coaching staff lets him be. After a 4-carry 50-yard first quarter against Penn State, he didn't touch the ball again until the 3rd quarter, something Urban Meyer and Offensive Coordinator Kevin Wilson each didn't have an answer for after the game. He has some ridiculous moves for a true freshman, and is the big play threat of the group. Despite his effectiveness, he doesn't get a lot of redzone carries, and was barley on the field late in the game against Penn State. Maybe the coaches just trust Weber's experience more in those situations, but that's definitely something to keep an eye on personnel-wise if tomorrow's game is close in the the second half.
Max: Not a lot of people in these parts have been talking about the Buckeye defense, but they shut down Saquon Barkley on the ground and generally made it difficult for Trace McSorley through the air, and are only giving up 18.3 points per game. In what ways are they vulnerable on that side of the ball, if at all?
Colton: The defense is most vulnerable in the secondary, especially at corner. Denzel Ward is rock-solid as their No. 1 guy, but sophomores Damon Arnette and Kendall Sheffield can be a bit grabby, and have a habit of not finding the ball in one-on-one coverage. They haven't given up a ton of explosive plays, but opponents have won a lot of 50/50 balls to keep the chains moving. Iowa's going to have to make sure Nathan Stanley has time to throw against Ohio State's pass rush, but I think they can have some success throwing since they've already been efficient enough in that regard this season.
Max: Finish this sentence: Iowa has a chance to upset the Buckeyes if...
Colton: They get the jump on Ohio State early. Coming off such an emotional win and now having to play in a crazy road environment, I think Ohio State is ripe for a slow start, and Iowa has to take advantage. If they're able to force a turnover or make a big play on special teams early on, I wouldn't be surprised at all if this is a game late into the second half that Iowa have a chance to win if a couple of plays go their way.
Max: Finally, prediction time. Can Iowa get their first win in the series since 2004, or will the Buckeyes continue to roll against the Hawkeyes?
Colton: Ohio State wins, but it isn't a blowout. Ultimately, I just don't see the Buckeyes defense giving up more than 20 points, and think that the defensive line continues its dominant play from last week, and forces the Hawkeyes into too many third-and-longs to be effective. Offensively, Ohio State's offensive line and running game eventually wear down Iowa's front seven, and they're able to move the ball efficiently down the field for some long touchdown drives in the second half that put the game out reach. The Hawkeyes keep it close into the third quarter, but Ohio State wins, 37-17.
Thanks to Colton Denning for his time and insight! Of course, I hope the Hawkeyes throw nine hundred points on your team. For more on all things Ohio State, check out Land-Grant Holy Land and find them on Twitter at @LandGrant33. Go Hawks.