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Matchup to Watch: Iowa’s Linebackers vs. Circumstances

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Injuries, suspension, scheme change (?!?), and an offense looking to break out could all adversely affect Iowa’s linebackers

Wisconsin v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

After the Iowa Hawkeyes’ game against Minnesota, they left it much worse for wear than one would expect after the first game following a bye week. It was particularly rough for Iowa’s linebackers, as Jack Hockaday and Amani Jones (for the first half), joined Nick Niemann as unavailable for the game against the Indiana Hoosiers.

While Kristian Welch and Djimon Colbert have received plenty of playing time at WLB during the season, Welch will transition to MLB for this week’s showdown. Barrington Wade also figures to play much more than he did against the Minnesota Golden Gophers; Amani Hooker slid down from safety and served as the OLB in Iowa’s nickel package since Minnesota was comfortable airing it out.

Scott Dochterman detailed on The Athletic ($): the shift was about getting Iowa’s best 11 players on the field. With depth dwindling at linebacker and corner, it’s clear Iowa’s second best position group (behind defensive ends) is at safety. Though the statistics were limited from Saturday’s game (12 tackles, two passes defended, and one interception among the three), they were instrumental in Iowa’s defensive effort and limited big plays.

But what if Iowa reverts to a more vanilla gameplan – and base personnel – to counter Indiana’s more exotic offense?

Though Minnesota was comfortable throwing the ball, the Hoosiers do it better with nearly 250 yards per game on 26/38 passing versus Minnesota’s 196 on 16/31. They also possess a consistent dual threat QB (if he’s healthy), in Peyton Ramsey. Indiana also has Stevie Scott, a bruising at running back willing to go between the tackles. At 6’2” and 233 pounds, his proportions are much different than the backs Minnesota played, with Mohamed Ibrahim was the heaviest at 205 pounds.

Perhaps the best replication for Scott was Minnesota’s wildcat QB, Seth Green. The quarterback-turned-tight end measures 6’4” 240 pounds and Iowa struggled to contain him with the nickel defense and often subbed into base personnel to match his brawn.

On first watch, I was convinced Amani Hooker remained as the nominal WLB but here we see Wade (35) inside of Hooker (27) and Parker Hesse. Ultimately, it highlights the issue with the current state of Iowa’s linebacking in two ways:

  1. Since neither Hawkeye is able to set the edge, Green is able to blow right around them, as Hooker’s failed attempt at block busting breaks contain.
  2. All three of Wade, Hooker, and Amani Jones (52) bite on the dive, which forces all three into the same space. Iowa is able to mitigate the rush to about 10 yards but continued to struggle when faced with those looks.

Minnesota was eventually forced to punt, but the Nate Stanley fumble returned the ball to the Goofers at the 4. They were able to score after two more Green keeps, the final of which saw Hooker lose contain once again.

For Indiana, Scott offers them an ability to run to set up the pass. In highlights I’ve watched, he's actually most successful between the tackles, which opens Iowa linebackers - plus Hooker - up to getting sold on play fakes. First, he broke off a big run against OSU to get their game this weekend off to a good start:

While Indiana might use the fakes to Scott to collapse the defense and open up lanes for Ramsey, the team’s second leading rusher, they’ll do it most notably to provide one-on-one coverage down the field.

Indiana has struggled with big plays on offense so they’ll look to exploit Iowa’s inexperience on defense to jumpstart their offense. With injuries playing into “Indiana’s death by a thousand cuts” offense, Iowa linebackers could struggle in coverage, as well as defending the run against a bruising back.

If Saturday’s offensive output is any indication, Iowa might not stellar play on the defensive side of the ball but weird things happen at Indiana’s Memorial Stadium. With Indiana’s improved defense under Tom Allen, it might elevate those chances of something weird.

So it’s likely Phil Parker will need another excellent gameplan to limit the Hoosiers’ output. Whether those called into action are able to convert might be a different story.