Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz knows his team will be undermanned against Ohio State and would love to have access to some of the players occupying starting spots for the Buckeyes.
Actually, Ferentz would be content if he could just snap up a few of OSU’s understudies.
The dean of Big Ten coaches pointed out that backup quarterback Kenny Guiton and running back Jordan Hall have better stats than first-stringers Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde. And they’re not the only subs capable of performing like regulars.
“That gives you an indication about their depth,” Ferentz said on the Big Ten teleconference this week. “They have a lot of good players. If you look at their offense — pick a position and try to find a weakness. Good luck on that one. And they’ve got some young guys they’re trying to integrate as well that will make them that much more dangerous.
“They’re approaching 20 straight wins, and you don’t do that by accident. They lead the conference in scoring, and you don’t do that by accident.”
But OSU coach Urban Meyer is wary of the Hawkeyes. Asked after Wednesday’s practice if he’s worried about his players becoming complacent following a pair of hyped prime-time games and then a week off, he replied: “No. (Iowa has) one of the best defenses. They’re one of the top 10 in America, and our kids know that.”
The Hawkeyes are eighth in the nation in rushing defense, surrendering 88.5 yards per game. They’re also giving up an average of 16.8 points, and they lead the Big Ten in red-zone defense, holding teams to one touchdown and five field goals in nine trips inside their 20-yard line.
Meyer believes an effective defensive line is the key to their success, having put an emphasis on plugging lanes over barreling after the quarterback.
“They occupy gaps, and they play with their hands — a lot like an Alabama defensive line where they constrict the running seams,” Meyer said. “You’ve got to be a good player to do that because the threat of being overtaken by an offensive lineman is real, unless you’re very well-schooled, which these guys are.”
But the Buckeyes have been stout against the run, too. They’re sixth in the nation in rush defense, allowing 86.2 yards per game.
“We’re kind of hard to run against, and they’re kind of hard to run against. We’re certainly not going to be stubborn,” Meyer said, meaning he’ll gladly move the ball through the air if that’s what it takes.
But Hyde was emphatic that the Buckeyes, who are averaging 280.7 rushing yards per game, won’t abandon their strength.
“They haven’t allowed a (rushing) touchdown, but we’re not going to change our game plan,” he said. “We’re going to do what Ohio State does, and that’s run the ball.”
Tighten up: OSU fans have been aghast over the soft coverages in pass defense. The Buckeyes seem to be giving receivers generous cushions, which is why opponents are averaging 240 passing yards per game.
“I think it’s the underneath coverage (that’s the problem). There were a couple of glaring ones that I watched on film, some of those in the Wisconsin game,” Meyer said. “I know our defensive staff did a wonderful job stopping that run game. … We really spend a lot of energy and focus on the run game. My challenge to them is, without sacrificing that, how do we get that same focus into stopping the pass game?
“Last week, we did several things (in practice) that we are going to continue this week.”
But playing more press coverage — having defensive backs jam receivers at the line — may not be the answer because of how taxing it can be on a secondary over the course of a game.
“If I had my druthers, we’d walk up and press every snap. But you can’t. That’s not realistic,” co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers said.
“Our No. 1 objective is to stop the run. And if a team can’t run it on you, and they can throw it on you, as long as you’re triggering (reacting) and tackling, you’re going to be OK.”
More on Miller: After losing two fumbles in his last game against Northwestern, OSU’s Miller has been getting an earful from Meyer this week.
As for what he wants to see from his QB against Iowa, Meyer said: “I expect him to be Braxton Miller with better ball security. Take away those two fumbles, and he actually played pretty good in that game — real good. But that’s like saying, ‘Take away a bad golf shot on the 18th hole.’ “
Iowa (4-2, 1-1) at Ohio State (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten), 3:30 p.m., ABC, 1410