Iowa offense vs. Indiana defense
Just in time for the Hawkeyes, Indiana’s pass rush has engaged. Last week with four sacks in a loss at Minnesota, the Hoosiers are now fifth in the Big Ten with 12 this season.
Iowa fans certainly remember last season’s sack massacre at Kinnick, when the Hoosiers piled up nine sacks, tying a school record and the most since nine against Northwestern in 1992. The same guys who did all the sacking last season are back this year. Defensive end Jammie Kirlew, who had 3.5 against Iowa last season, picked up 2.5 sacks last week against the Gophers and now has a season high and 11 career. Defensive end Greg Middleton is the main man who’s on all of the preseason watch lists, but he’s stuck on one this season after setting the school record with 16 last year. Eight players have sacks for the Hoosiers this season.
IU set a school record with 42 sacks last season, nine more sacks than the Hoosiers had in 2005 and ‘06 combined. Their nine-sack performance against the Hawkeyes put them on the map. The Hoosiers returned 78.6 percent (33) of those sacks this season.
The Hoosiers front four isn’t just about sacks. Last week, they (tackles Deonte Mack and Greg Brown) made the Gophers one dimensional, holding them to 59 rushing yards, just 1.3 yards a carry. IU also has an active group of linebackers with Will Patterson, Geno Johnson and Matt Mayberry sitting second, third and fourth on the team in tackles. The trio has recorded 9.5 of the team’s 32.5 tackles for loss and have combined to break up four passes.
The secondary is led by safety Nick Polk, who leads the Big Ten in forced fumbles (2). Polk and fellow safety Austin Thomas returned from injuries last week and combined for 17 tackles. In just 3.5 games this season, Polk has been involved in four turnovers.
You all know the undoing of Iowa’s offense. In two Big Ten games, Iowa has eight turnovers to just two takeaways for a minus-6 margin, worst in the league but only two behind Indiana, which is minus-4. Iowa’s six fumbles lead the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes’ 14 turnovers have already surpassed the 13 Iowa coughed up all last season.
In Iowa’s two Big Ten losses, sophomore quarterback Ricky Stanzi has accounted for five turnovers, three fumbles and two interceptions. On a few key occasions in last week’s loss at Michigan State, his accuracy, a strength, abandoned him, missing on an easy third-and-2 and throwing an interception at MSU’s 4. Stanzi is moving the team, but he’s not taking care of the ball. That equation has to go the other way this week or Stanzi will be looking over his shoulder at No. 2 Jake Christensen.
Coach Kirk Ferentz brought up this week’s Monday Night Football game, when the New Orleans Saints bottled up Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson, holding him to 32 yards on 21 carries. Ferentz’s point was if a defense really sets its sights on stopping running back Shonn Greene, it might be able to do just that. That’d be bad for Iowa, as you might have guessed. Greene is the No. 6 rusher in the country with 137.0 yards a game and 6.4 yards a carry. With 844 total yards, Greene is 37 percent of Iowa’s offense.
Just when it looked as though tight end Tony Moeaki’s season was going to get out of the training room, he suffered a leg strain last week that has him doubtful this week. He was a key cog in the first half, catching four passes for 24 yards. Not tremendous numbers, but enough to keep safeties and linebackers with one eye on Greene and another on the pass.
Iowa defense vs. Indiana offense
Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis as made the Hawkeyes his own personal chew toy. The junior quarterback has completed 38-of-51 (74.5 percent) for 577 yards (288.5
average) and scored seven (six passing, one rushing) of the team’s nine total touchdowns. He has been named the Big Ten’s offensive player of the week following both Indiana wins. His pass efficiency against the Hawkeyes is 200.5.
Lewis completed 19 of 26 (73.1) for 322 yards, three touchdown passes (one credited to himself, a recovered fumble), 71 receiving yards, and 20 rushing yards last season. In 2006, he connected on 19-of-25 (76.0) for 255 yards, three scores, 13 rushing yards and one rushing TD.
Not included in any of those stats is the flip he did into the end zone last season at Kinnick, earning a 15-yard unsportsmanlike. But hey, if you put up those numbers, you make back a 15-yard penalty in one series, or maybe one play.
Lewis’ numbers are down this year — 70-for-115, 817 yds, 4 TD, 4 INT, 375 rush yds (3 TDs) with a pass efficiency of 125.1 — but he’s fighting off an ankle injury and is also splitting time with sophomore Ben Chappell. In Indiana’s two Big Ten games, Chappell has quarterbacked with Lewis as a receiver for 15 plays. Last week, Chappell accounted for Indiana’s lone TD, a 77-yard pass to running back Marcus Thigpen.
Thigpen isn’t a grinder-back, he’s a dual-threat who’s third in the Big Ten with 168.8 all-purpose yards a game. Last week, he became the first player in school history to go over 1,000 yards in rushing (1,269), receiving (1,003) and kickoff returns (1,511). With his 77-yard touchdown reception at Minnesota, the fifth-year senior now has three 75-plus yard scores in the last two weeks. With his three career kickoff TD returns and a 74-yard touchdown grab his freshman year, Thigpen has seven career scores on plays over 70 yards.
Indiana’s 24-man recruiting class of 2006 included seven offensive linemen. In their third year together, the 2008 offensive line features five of those recruits. Junior Rodger Saffold has started 24 of the last 26 games at left tackle, while sophomore Pete Saxon has started 23 of the last 24 at left guard. The duo has started the first five games in 2008 and anchor the left side of the line. They’re joined by Alex Perry at center, Cody Faulkner at right guard and Mike Stark at right tackle.
With Iowa’s offense killing itself with crucial turnovers, the Hawkeyes’ defense is more than happy to accept the pressure of keeping opponents’ scoring down. The defense has allowed 22 and 16 points the last two weeks and sits No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense at 11.2 points a game. Iowa is also terrific at stopping the run, sitting second in the Big Ten at 98.8 yards a game.
“As a defense, we need to do whatever we need to to win the game,” outside linebacker A.J. Edds said. “If it involves keeping a team at 12 points instead of 15, we need to do that. It’s not a real big mystery there as far as a defense. You never know what the number is going to have to be at the end of the game, so you have to make everybody earn it on every play.”
The Hawkeyes also lead the Big Ten in interceptions with 10, with linebacker Pat Angerer and corner Amari Spievey leading the way with two.
Defensive tackles Matt Kroul and Mitch King reached 200 career tackles one game apart from each other. Kroul became the 59th Iowa defensive player to reach the
200-tackle plateau vs. Northwestern (Sept. 27), while King accomplished the feat one game later at Michigan State (Oct. 4). Kroul has 43 consecutive starts, a streak that ties for second-best in the Big Ten (Wisconsin OL Kraig Urbik, 44; Purdue OL Sean Sester, 43).
IU kicker Austin Starr was an all-American and first-team all-Big Ten pick for the Hoosiers last season. So far this year, he’s made 4 of 6 attempts with a long of 40 yards. He is fifth on the school’s career field goals (37) and extra points (91) lists and ranks ninth in IU’s career points (202). He has 11 touchbacks this season. Indiana freshman Chris Hagerup is third in the Big Ten and 18th in the nation with 43.5 yards a punt. In a loss to Michigan State, Hagerup had six punts for an average of 51.5 yards, the fifth-highest in IU history.
Iowa’s kick return unit put in its best effort since 2002 last week, Freshman running back Jewel Hampton returned four kicks for 116 yards, a 29.0 average with a long return of 40 yards. It showed up in the field position department.
Freshman kicker Trent Mossbrucker might’ve been passed over when game-tying field goal opportunities came up late in the fourth quarter last week, but the Mooresville, Ind., native is doing his part. He’s made six straight attempts and is now 8 of 9 this season with a long of 39 yards. Iowa has only allowed four punt returns for a total of 14 yards through six games.
This is Bill Lynch’s second season after taking over for the late Terry Hoeppner, who lifted the Hoosiers program from the depths to bowl eligibility. These are still Hoeppner’s players. This is still Hoeppner’s offense. It’s still working. But today is a guage for the IU program. It’s beaten Iowa in two straight seasons and is trying for its first three-game winning streak over the Hawkeyes since 1998-00. Lynch could go a long way in silencing the doubters with a victory today.
For the second straight week, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz found himself defending his program, from offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe to playcalling to Iowa’s evolution (or lack thereof) on offense. ESPN and Sports Illustrated websites have mentioned that Ferentz is on the ropes in his 10th season. Well, that’s just not true. There’s national perception and there’s Iowa reality. Ferentz isn’t going anywhere. That doesn’t mean he’d give his favorite sweatshirt to win today. When Iowa beat Indiana in 2001, it tilted a possible bowl-less plight into an Alamo Bowl triumph, flipping 5-6 into 7-5. Ferentz was emotional in a TV interview afterward. He might be today, too, but it might be more of a “back off.”
— Marc Morehouse