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2022 opponent preview: Ohio State Buckeyes

It’s been 5 years since these two teams last faced off in a game people forget: a 55-24 Iowa win.

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Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Adam Cairns/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

We continue our quest through Iowa’s upcoming football schedule with the nation’s leader in points scored: The Ohio State Buckeyes.

5 Ws

Who: Ohio State Buckeyes (Columbus, OH; Big Ten Conference)
Head Coach: Ryan Day (33-4 at Ohio State)

What: The game following Iowa’s bye week

When: October 22nd, 2022

Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, OH

Why: Because it has been too long since these teams faced off

4 Stats

45.1 points: The Buckeyes’ points/game average since Ryan Day took over as full time head coach, three seasons ago. They’ve scored less than 30 points just 4 times in 25 conference games since he took over. They amassed 328 points in their eight-game 2020 season. Coincidentally, Iowa scored 328 points in their 14-game 2021 season.

Different sports!

1-3: Iowa’s record in conference games following the bye week since 2017. All four games have been played on the road. Boooooo! Pre-2017, Iowa was 7-7 in post-bye Big Ten games under Kirk. 9 of those took place on the road. Maybe let Iowa have a home game post-bye?

44:6: Quarterback CJ Stroud threw an astounding 44 touchdowns, which was 3rd in the country and first in the conference by a wide margin (Purdue’s Aidan O’Connell was second with 28). With just six interceptions - 1.4% rate - it resulted in the second highest QB rating in the country.

18.1 PPG: Oklahoma State’s points allowed, which ranked in the country’s top 10. Why is that relevant? After ceding 22.8 points per game, the Buckeyes went out and hired Jim Knowles from the Pokes’ staff. While the 2021 OPPG number isn’t all that bad, the defense didn’t show up in the final two games of the season, ceding over 40 points in each (and 35 in a non-conference loss to Oregon).

3 Guys

TreVeyon Henderson (#32, RB, 2nd yr, 5’10”, 215 lbs): Henderson is an absolute menace of a running back and earned freshman All-American honors last season. He accumulated 1248 yards at a conference-leading clip of 6.8 per rush.

His highlight package is genuinely insane for a freshman. The Buckeyes did a good job leveraging Pistol formations to get him moving immediately downhill but his skillset is much more than that. In the second play shown, he occupies the flat for a simple reception before turning on the jets and breezing by the Minnesota defenders. Iowa football is obsessed with defending the run first and Henderson offers a skillset akin to Saquon Barkley.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba (#1, WR, 3rd yr, 6’0”, 198 lbs): He had 5 less receiving yards in the bowl previously known as “The Grandaddy of Them All” (347) than Iowa’s leading wide receiver had all of last season (352).

Ryan Day uses a variety of formations to get Smith-Njigba in space, including in the flat in screen settings. But really, the damage gets done down the field when he’s got a head full of steam. Utah displayed some pretty ugly tackling on JSN throughout much of the Rose Bowl but his ability to get behind defenders is arguably second to none among collegiate WRs.

He probably would have been a coveted draft pick if he left but rules dictate he must wait a third season until being drafted. Maybe he’ll pull a Micah Parsons. That might be Iowa’s best hope at stopping him.

Tanner McCallister (#15, S, Grad, 5’11”, 195 lbs): An Oklahoma State transfer, McCallister has the pole position as a starter within their secondary as someone with deep knowledge of the system which is being implemented. He operates as the nickel safety and will be an integral part in stopping Iowa’s run & slot receiver.

Across 23 starts, he accumulated 83 tackles and 11 passes defended including a single interception. There may be more talented players in OSU’s backfield but none more knowledgeable at what Knowles wants to run than McCalister.

2 Cases

Best case: A beat for beat repeat of 2017 insomuch as Iowa jumps on the board quickly with a defensive score & catch OSU off guard with some much needed offensive creativity. The Buckeyes continuously turn it over and allow Iowa to build an insurmountable lead.

Worst case: Iowa struggles to block and tackle against a team loaded with 4- and 5-star players. The defense plays valiantly for a half but the inevitability of the Buckeyes proves to be too much as the Hawkeyes lose by a wide, wide margin amidst another sorry offensive performance.

1 Question

Can Brian pull one out of his rear end? The Athletic had a marathon film session with offensive coordinator and QB coach, Brian Ferentz. It was certainly interesting enough - but plenty frustrating - and Scott Dochterman rehashed some of it with his old colleague Marc Morehouse. A takeaway from that debrief was essentially that some games, Iowa will need to score a boatload of points to win.

This is one of those games.

Now maybe lightening will strike twice and Kirk Ferentz has shown a willingness to get weird to try and take down the Buckeyes, lest we forget the three TE looks from 2014. But OSU has made the necessary moves to improve their defense with Knowles as the coordinator and are expected to ramp up in capabilities with his arrival. I do not expect the Buckeyes to be so easy to dissect, as they were 5 seasons ago. Here, Eleven Warriors detailed the improvements:

For those of us who have spent the past five months studying what Knowles showed at Oklahoma State, we know that the Gray team barely scratched the surface of what we know is inside the veteran coach’s playbook. But compared to what Ohio State’s defense has looked like for nearly a decade, the Scarlet & Gray game was remarkable for the amount of schematic diversity shown in the secondary alone.

(highly, highly recommend both reads)

Now, maybe “horse and buggy” football could get these guys with some blocking tight ends. Who knows. But I suspect they’ll be a little more ready for that than they were under late stage Urban Meyer.