Well, here it is. The game I've been fearing more than any all season. If you remember back part of my season preview, this was the lone game I expected the Buckeyes to lose this season. I think back in the preseason the more realistic Buckeye fans expected the season to come down to either this game or the game at Texas. I chose this game with the deciding factor being Iowa's experience at quarterback.
However, the way the season has played out to date, I am beginning to like our chances more and more. The secondary has been especially good considering most people viewed that as the weakest spot on the defense in August. By now, everyone knows that the last time Ohio State played in Kinnick, the results weren't pretty. But that was in 2004, and outside of the final 2 games, none of that season was pretty. The environment will be hostile, but with the way the young team handled themselves in Austin, I think they are capable of just about anything at this point. In a game like this, predicting how it will play out is incredibly different considering all the factors at play here. You've got to consider the environment, the coaching, the experience levels of both teams, the weather, the revenge factor, and the fact that you just KNOW Iowa will play to the best of their abilities in that game. Anyways, I'll do my best to look at all of the key things to watch in this key game:
Drew Tate vs. The Buckeye Secondary
Throughout the 2006 campaign, the defensive backs have played extraordinary against the pass, allowing just 167 passing yards a game (3rd in the Big 10), and only allowing the defense to get in the endzone via the air three times all season. If Jay Richardson doesn't get flagged for being too tall against Texas, and Brandon Mitchell and Marcus Freeman don't completely whiff on Garrett Wolfe, you're looking at a defense that has allowed six points all season by the passing game. However, one could argue that despite the secondary's great performance, that they have been the beneficiaries of some poor quarterback play. And, although that is true, one thing that must be taken into account is that there has been just one game all season where the outcome hasn't been decided by the end of the 3rd quarter, so teams have had to abandon the running game completely against us. If there is any argument to be made here as to how much help the secondary has gotten this season, the finger should be pointed at our defensive line, which has been stellar in getting pressure on the quarterback all season long (More on that later).
One shouldn't doubt Drew Tate's abilities, however. There's a reason that he is considered by many to be one of the three best quarterbacks in the Big 10. He's one of the most experienced quarterbacks you'll find out there, he's got a rocket arm, and is mobile enough to escape the pocket when needed. He is remarkably smart with the ball, making him one of the least mistake-prone quarterbacks in the nation. Ohio State will have to make Tate scramble around a bit and hope he tries to force something, because he's not going to make bad throws on his own.
Advantage: Iowa, if the O-Line steps up
Albert Young vs. Buckeye front 7
Regardless of what the mainstream media will try to say, this Buckeye defense is far from one of the best out there, especially when it comes to stopping the run game. We all saw what Garrett Wolfe, Selvin Young, Jamaal Charles, and Tony Hunt were capable of against us, and Albert Young could very well add his name to that list. However, if he is to do so, he will need some help from his offensive line, something he has not gotten much this season. Young is more than talented, but his inexperienced offensive line has made the running game somewhat of a liability so far this season. Young's 280 rushing yards ranks 11 in the Big 10, a number which leaves many wondering "Who exactly is Jehuu Caulcrick, anyways?" Young has become a threat catching passes out of the backfield, catching 18 passes to date. Buckeye fans know that the Back Seven have struggled in defending the running back out of the backfield all season long, so here's hoping someone on the team has actually learned how to read a screen pass since week 1.
Advantage: The good guys
Win in the trenches:
Yes, this is an exact key to the game from the Texas week, but it is just as important here as it is there. Effective line play creates opportunities for the rest of the guys to shine, and this has been evident so far this season. In weeks 1 and 2, Troy Smith had time to read the morning paper, drink his coffee, and then make his check-downs in the pocket, and the results were staggering. Troy Smith quickly jumped over the likes of Peterson and Quinn to reach the top of most heisman polls, and the Ohio State offense ran like a well oiled machine. In the past two games, the pass protection has been pretty poor, especially on the blind side. Alex Boone has had two of his worst games in his short career, most notably against Cincinnati when he got benched in the third quarter not because of the lead, but because he was struggling so much. Tim Schafer got moved from starting left guard to backup tackle to make room for the up and coming Steve Rehring, and that is a move I have to agree with. Schafer is a bit lighter than Boone, thus making him a bit more mobile. It makes it more difficult for defensive ends to burn whoever is at left tackle, because Schafer is quicker and Boone will be getting more rest. Iowa's defensive line is relatively inexperienced outside of Ken Iwebema at end, so as long as we can shut him down, we should be fine.
As far as the other side of the line is concerned, I don't think it will be too much of an issue. Iowa's offensive line has underachieved all season long, and Ohio State's line has more than lived up to the expectations. The talent difference is obvious, and this is the matchup that I am most comfortable with. Will we get 8 sacks like we did against Cincy? Doubtful. Will we do enough to fluster Drew Tate? Most likely.
Advantage: Ohio State easily on both counts, but only if Alex Boone shows up.
Ohio State: 28
Our receivers will be too much for the Iowa secondary, and the defense should be able to do enough to contain the Hawkeye backfield. Troy Smith will have 2 touchdowns through the air, and another on the ground. Antonio Pittman won't break 100 yards, but will find the endzone. Never underestimate Kirk Ferentz in big games, and I hope I'm not doing that here.