This is hard. It's hard to feel excited going in to a game in which Iowa is an underdog to Indiana. It's hard to find interesting things to talk about with a team that isn't very good at anything right now.
The good news, I guess, is that Indiana isn't such a good team either and that if Iowa does put a few things together could and even should win this game.
Plus, if we want to get super optimistic here, Iowa isn't even out of the Legends Division title race. Everyone has at least one loss and I expect everyone to get at least one more. If Iowa somehow does manage to go 4-0, (why am I even talking about this? I don't know...), then, assuming jNW loses one more, Iowa will be headed to the second B1G championship game.
We'll see how I'm feeling after tomorrow.
Win in the red zone
I guess the first thing for the Hawks would be to get to the red zone. That definitely isn't a given the way the offense is playing. But Indiana's defense has been poor and is the worst in the conference giving up just under 30 points and 440 yards per game. They are particularly bad against the run, against worst in the conference. Iowa should be able to establish a running game with Damon Bullock and hopefully, hopefully, use that to open up the passing game. Not that I'm too optimistic.
Anyway, the red zone. Indiana's red zone defense, like the rest of its defense, is not so good. Like Iowa, Indiana's opponents have scored on 26 of 31 trips inside the 20, but the difference is, Indiana has given up 20 TDs (while Iowa has given up just 15). So when (or if) Iowa gets close enough to punch it in, they need to take advantage and do so.
Conversely, Indiana has a very good red zone offense and a pretty decent offense all around. They've scored on a league best 34 of 36 trips and have 25 red zone TDs. They average 34 points and over 440 yards per game. So odds are not really in Iowa's favor to stop the Hoosier O. Instead, they need to get back to classic bend but don't break and hold Indiana to field goals.
Step up seniors
There are only 4, maybe 5, more games for the seniors to step up and finish their college careers on a high note. It's a relatively small class and this team is really young (there are 13 freshman on the 2-deeps), but the seniors are all pretty important. Obviously the big one is James Vandenberg. This isn't how he wanted his senior season to go. After last year, people were expecting him to be the best passer in the conference and an almost sure draft pick. Now it looks like his football career will be over in a few weeks. It seems pretty unlikely after 8 bad weeks, but he still has time to salvage this year...not like, play well enough to get drafted, but at least make a bowl game.
The guy who could really help him out is Keenan Davis. Davis has been playing pretty well this year, but not really any better than last. He still has a problem with drops and had two bad ones last week.
On defense, the secondary is full of seniors. Micah Hyde, Tom Donatell, Greg Castillo, Joe Gaglione, and Steve Bigach. That's half the defense right there. Actually, these guys have been pretty solid. Hyde has been playing very well and Gaglione has played much better than expected. But solid hasn't translated into many game changing plays. Iowa needs a timely turnover, a critical stop, something.
Dictate the flow
Kirk Ferentz said this week that the offense is allowing the defense dictate what it does. This makes sense...take what they give you. But it has gone too far. Vandenberg is making reads pre-snap (often telling him to throw it short and to the outside), locking in on the read, and then throwing it 5 feet over the guy's head. That's the basic philosophy.
Iowa used to line up and say, you know exactly what we are going to do, but we're going to out execute you and you can't stop it. They dictate the game. And it was the same thing on defense.
How many games under Kirk Ferentz have we seen that Iowa has forced it into an ugly, low-scoring, close, slugfest? A lot. That's the type of game Iowa wants to play.
So Iowa needs to get back to this. Don't allow Indiana to come out, establish its blazing fast offense, and let it run up and down the field. Turn this in to a sloppy defensive battle. Make the better defense win...because Iowa does have the better defense.
I don't know exactly how to do this, or how Iowa has had success doing it in the past. But just do it. Maybe the weather will help. It's supposed to be cold with a chance of rain.
A scoreless first quarter
Iowa's defense has been very poor at the start of game. Northern Illinois and Minnesota are the only teams not to score in the first quarter. Penn State failed to score on its first drive, but scored on its next. And the rest of the teams have all scored on their first drives. It is a bad trend and leaves Iowa fighting from behind all too often.
So I'd like to see two things here...Iowa takes the ball and pounds it at Indiana going after their poor run defense. Score and chew up a lot of clock. Then get a stop on defense and keep Indiana off of the board in the first quarter.
Iowa has been playing better in the second half of games, so an early lead come spell victory.
I almost never pick against the Hawkeyes. I think in the past 2 years the only two times I did were the two bowl games. But I am really tempted to do so this week.
Ultimately though, I think Iowa will get a good run game going and Bullock will go over 100 yards. The offense will play similar to the Minnesota game, as Indiana's defense is probably worse. Indiana will get its points two by passing all over the field.
Somehow, some way, I think Iowa is able to get it down with a late score.
Final Score: Iowa 27 - Indiana 23