Playing For A Chance At The Roses

Tomorrow afternoon Ohio State plays Iowa at Ohio Stadium, with the winner of the game taking home the Big Ten championship and the invitation to the Rose Bowl. It’s been a tremendous season for Iowa. Until last week’s stumble against Northwestern, the Hawkeyes were undefeated and had pulled off a series of thrilling come-from-behind wins, including a last-second victory against Michigan State. The Buckeyes’ season has been a bit more up-and-down, with last week’s road win against Penn State being the high point so far.

I expect it to be a tough, hard-hitting game. Iowa’s offense is banged up and, at times during conference play, has struggled at moving the ball. Due to an injury they will be starting a new quarterback, so when Iowa has the ball Ohio State fans will look to make the Horseshoe as loud and intimidating as possible. Iowa’s defense, on the other hand, is one of the finest defenses in the Big Ten and in the nation. They are a gritty, ball-hawking group that thrives on turnovers and big plays. Iowa also has excellent special teams that have kicked and covered well and blocked field goal and punt attempts.

I’m worried about this game. Although Ohio State’s offense played extremely well against Penn State last week, they have been inconsistent this year and Iowa’s defense may well be the best defense they have faced to date. The Buckeyes’ running backs (especially Boom Herron) have been battling injuries, and Terrelle Pryor also has not been 100 percent since suffering an injury in the New Mexico State game. The two keys for the Buckeyes, I think, will be the play of the offensive line and avoiding turnovers against the aggressive Iowa squad. The offense needs to be able to move the ball on the ground with its running backs and keep the Iowa defense off balance with short passes and imaginative play calling. Avoiding turnovers will be huge, because the Buckeyes do not want to give Iowa a momentum-changing defensive score or a short field. Ohio State will want to keep Iowa bottled up and make the Hawkeyes and their redshirt freshman quarterback put together long sustained drives if they hope to score.

I expect Iowa to pass much more than Penn State did last week; they have nothing to lose by running a more wide-open offense. The keys for the Ohio State defense will be pressure from the line and solid play for the defensive backfield, with an emphasis on not giving up any big plays. The Ohio State defensive line has been terrific at pressuring opposing quarterbacks, disrupting plays in the backfield, and clamping down on opponents’ ground attacks, and my hope is that they can accomplish those goals tomorrow as well. A few turnovers from a harried Iowa offense would be most welcome!

UJ and I will be there for the game, with sister Cathy and niece Brittany. We’ll get down to the Stadium area early to take in the pre-game festivities on what is supposed to be a sunny, 65-degree afternoon and then root hard for the Buckeyes to prevail in their bid for the Rose Bowl.

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