After a week of recovery, the Iowa Hawkeyes are set to take the field once again as they travel to Columbus, Ohio and into the Death Star to take on the #2 Ohio State Buckeyes. It’s been a full five years since the Hawkeyes and Buckeyes have squared off with the most recent meeting coming in that often forgotten 55-24 win for the Hawkeyes under the lights inside Kinnick Stadium.
Given it’s been half a decade since that game and nearly a full decade since Iowa has traveled to the Horseshoe, it’s a good time to take another look at the Buckeyes. In the words of the wise and sage like Big Tom Callahan, you can get a good look at a t-bone by sticking your head up a bull’s rear end, but wouldn’t you rather take the butcher’s word for it?
So just like every other week (unless, of course, our cohorts at other SB Nation sites don’t get back to us..), we’re taking the butcher’s word for it and getting the inside details on Ohio State from our friends over at Land Grant Holy Land. We were joined this week by LGHL co-managing editor Matt Tamanini to talk about this weekend’s matchup.
Here’s a look at our conversation.
BHGP: Let’s start with the offense, which has been incredibly prolific so far this year. Everyone knows CJ Stroud and he’s been incredible (he has more passing yards through 6 games than the Iowa offense has managed collectively), but schematically what should Iowa fans expect to see from this Buckeye offense we haven’t seen in person in 5 years and who are the guys we’ll see catching passes from Stroud?
LGHL: This is by far the most complete offense that Ohio State has had since Ryan Day took over as offensive coordinator in 2017. While his offenses have always been incredibly strong, the difference this season is that for the first time in a while, not only is the passing game performing at an elite level, but so is the rushing attack. When you throw in an offensive line that has grown to be fairly dominant thus far (against admittedly middling defensive opponents) in both run blocking and pass protection, and the most dynamic tight end room in Columbus in recent memory, it really has been about as perfect of a start for the offense as Buckeye fans could have hoped for.
That’s not to say that there aren’t things that they can improve upon moving forward – and likely will need to if they want to reach all of their goals this season – but how multiple they can be depending on the situation and opponent has really allowed them to hit another gear this season.
In terms of who will be catching passes from Stroud on Saturday, that is still a little bit up in the air, at least in one case. The three primary pass-catchers so far this season have been Emeka Egbuka (leads the teams in yards), Marvin Harrison Jr. (leads the team in touchdowns), and Julian Fleming (has five TDs in four games played this year).
However, there is the possibility that No. 1 receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba will return on Saturday after essentially missing the entire first six games of the season. He sustained a hamstring injury early in the season-opener against Notre Dame and then played just a handful of snaps two weeks later against Toledo but has been otherwise sidelined all year. It’s not exactly clear how the addition of JSN back into the rotation will impact the offense, but having one of the best receivers in the country back on the field certainly won’t be a bad thing.
Also, tight ends Cade Stover and Gee Scott Jr. could also factor into the passing attack this weekend.
BHGP: In the run game, Iowa has been relatively stout this season, but has shown some weakness against teams like Iowa State and Illinois, neither of which can stretch the field vertically the way Ohio State can. The Buckeyes have two backs who have amassed roughly as many yards each as Iowa’s top two backs have combined and OSU has three RBs with more than 50 carries in an offense averaging 6 yards per carry. How do you expect this Buckeye group to approach the running game on Saturday - will they run to set up play action, pass to open up the run or something in between?
LGHL: Ohio State has been very fortunate this season to have had three backs capable of carrying the load at varying times. Both of the top two backs – TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams – have missed time this season due to injuries, and the No. 3 back coming into the season, Evan Pryor, sustained a season-ending injury in camp.
So, Henderson, Williams, and true-freshman Dallan Hayden have all had to lead the running attack at various times this season. Because Ryan Day has a team that can move the ball and score both on the ground and through the air, he has been steadfast this season in saying that their game plan will be predicated on what the defense is giving them.
Given his druthers, Day would probably like to throw the ball more than run it, but he has been relatively disciplined this season about not forcing things and allowing his running backs to work when it makes the most sense. So, I think that the Buckeye offense will try to remain fairly balanced in order to keep the Hawkeyes on their toes, but if Phil Parker decides to sell out to stop one aspect of the offense, I feel pretty comfortable that Day will pivot in the other direction.
BHGP: On the other side of the ball, Iowa’s offense has been laughably bad, even by Kirk Ferentz standards. A major part of that has been struggles along the offensive line. Who are the names Iowa fans can expect to hear called wreaking havoc in the backfield Saturday and what sort of fronts should we expect to see harassing Spencer Petras?
LGHL: It’s interesting, because looking at the stats, this Buckeye defensive line has been fairly non-descript (39th nationally in tackles for loss, 59thin sacks), but by the eye test, they have been pretty dominant. While they haven’t gotten home as often as fans (and likely the players and coaches as well) would like, both edge rushers and interior lineman have created a substantial amount of havoc for opposing offenses.
Sophomore defensive tackle Mike Hall Jr. has been a bit of a revelation this season. He came in as a top-60 national recruit, but he was overshadowed by two top-5 players on the edge (more on them in a second), but he has been the best defensive lineman this season for OSU. He leads the team with 4.5 sacks and 7.5 TFLs, despite missing the Toledo game and only playing seven snaps against Michigan State.
Oft-injured veteran Taron Vincent has also had a really solid season. While he isn’t likely to be the guy getting the tackles, he eats up a ton of blocks, making it possible for the linebackers to clean things up.
On the outside, there are three guys who are essentially rotating at the edge positions; Zach Harrison, J.T. Tuimoloau, and Jack Sawyer. All three were top-12 national recruits, with Tuimoloau and Sawyer being No. 4 and No. 5 respectively in 2021 (Harrison was No. 12 in 2019).
Sawyer is playing what new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles calls the Jack position (which is what it was named even before he came to Columbus and started coach Sawyer), and he will transition from a traditional end position to a stand-up hybrid DE/LB moving around the front to find the best matchups. Harrison and Tuimoloau will play more of a traditional end spot, although both have the ability to move inside on occasion.
Again, none of them are putting up eye-popping stats, but when watching the game, their impact is pretty evident.
BHGP: Wisconsin is a team that did find some success running the ball against the Buckeyes, putting up nearly 200 yards on the ground. What did they do to give OSU trouble and is there anything this reeling Iowa offense can glean from that game to provide a glimmer of hope?
LGHL: To be fair, it certainly helped that Braelon Allen had a 75-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter against Ohio State’s second and third team defense. However, that is relatively indicative of the Buckeyes this season. Knowles has been very open about the fact that his defense will give up big plays on occasion, in fact, he says that it is built into his scheme.
Because Knowles likes to be aggressive in his play calling, that is going to open up opportunities for offenses to rip off chunk plays at times. The goal for Knowles is to limit the number of those and to try to keep them to 25-30 yards instead of 65-70. The Ohio State defense is very much safety driven, so there should (in theory) always be someone on the back end. Obviously that doesn’t always happen, but it is a fundamental part of this defense.
BHGP: OK, we’ve prolonged this long enough. Our friends at DraftKings have the Buckeyes favored by 28.5 points in a game with a total points over/under set at 49, which implies a final score in the neighborhood of 39-10 in favor of Ohio State. How do you see this one playing out and what’s your final score prediction?
LGHL: I think that score is probably fairly in line with what I would expect. I imagine that coming off of an off week, Kirk Ferentz will have at least gotten some things worked out on offense and will have a good gameplan for the Buckeyes. However, I do think that Ohio State probably does have just too much firepower for Iowa to keep up with. So I’m going to go with 45-13, but I reserve the right to change my official prediction up until kickoff!
So there you have it - Ohio State is in fact quite good. I suspect many a Hawkeye fan would take a game that see the Iowa offense manage 13 points here and while this defense giving up 45 might be a bit of a disappointment, it would be below Ohio State’s season average and less than any Big Ten team has given up to the Buckeyes yet this season.
Thanks again to Matt Tamanini of Land Grant Holy Land for taking the time to give us some better perspective on this weekend’s matchup. Be sure to make a trip over to LGHL ahead of game time as they’ve got some great content on the matchup, including this film breakdown of the matchup.