Sports columnist Chad Leistikow and Danny Lawhon break down the Hawkeye's matchup with Ohio State before look ahead at the upcoming basketball season. Michael Zamora/The Register
IOWA CITY, Ia. — The players Ohio State’s offense is going to throw at Iowa’s defense Saturday might present the Hawkeye program’s biggest challenge since going against Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde in Columbus, Ohio, in 2013.
That, in fact, is the last time Iowa faced the Buckeyes, a 34-24 Hawkeye loss.
“That's them,” said Kirk Ferentz, who as Iowa's coach is 1-8 vs. Ohio State; 139-87 vs. everyone else. “Trying to remember the last time they have had a bad running back, or a bad quarterback, for that matter. Probably hasn't happened.”
And here we are again, with the 2017 version featuring J.T. Barrett and J.K. Dobbins.
The names change; the talent doesn’t.
Barrett comes into Saturday's 2:30 p.m., ESPN-televised game at Kinnick Stadium playing at an otherworldly level, He completed 13-of-13 passes in the fourth quarter with three touchdowns to rally Ohio State past Penn State, 39-38.
How to stop — or contain — Ohio State’s offense that has cranked out a program-record six straight games of 500-plus yards? It starts with Barrett, who averages 270.8 yards passing and 56.8 rushing per game.
“It's like you're playing 12 guys, because they have that extra guy, that extra dimension,” Ferentz said. “… Especially when you have so many other players that are so good.”
Stopping Barrett — who can run, pass or hand it off to a freshman running back in Dobbins who averages 7.6 yards a carry — starts with linebackers making the correct reads and sound tackles.
The good news for Iowa is it has three senior linebackers who are film-study addicts.
“We’ve got to keep him contained,” outside linebacker Ben Niemann said. “With their run-game and inside zone and zone reads, we’re going to have to be good communicating if we’re taking the quarterback or if the defensive ends are. We’ve just got to try to make him uncomfortable.”
A defense that held Penn State to two touchdowns probably has to step up again.
But if Iowa has any chance to compete, the offense has to start clicking.
Against Ohio State, an 18-point favorite, it might have to be perfect.
I do think the Hawkeye offense will offer fans encouragement, but the Ohio State offense will just be too much.
Prediction: Ohio State 38, Iowa 24
Iowa running back Akrum Wadley tells us what the offense needs to do Saturday. Chad Leistikow/The Register
Onto the rest of Saturday’s full slate of Big Ten games:
No. 4 Wisconsin (8-0, 5-0) at Indiana (3-5, 0-5)
Time, TV: Noon, ABC
Vegas line: Wisconsin by 13½
Prediction: Fans of Iowa and Northwestern who have any prayer of chasing down a Big Ten West title need Indiana to pull the upset. The Hoosiers have been close, time after time. They had three receivers, including ultra-talented Simmie Cobbs Jr., with at least 10 catches each in last week’s 42-39 loss to Maryland. A defense that allows just 3.8 yards per rush should be able to keep Indiana competitive against the Badgers, who might not have Big Ten rushing leader Jonathan Taylor. He’s questionable with an ankle injury. This game reminds me of Iowa’s trip to Indiana in 2015; the banged-up Hawkeyes were 8-0 and faced a better-than-the-record-showed Hoosier outfit. That game was close in the fourth quarter, but Iowa pulled away to win by eight. Wisconsin 28, Indiana 20
No. 7 Penn State (7-1, 4-1) at Michigan State (6-2, 4-1)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., Fox
Vegas line: Penn State by 9
Prediction: Prediction: Despite a gut-wrenching 39-38 loss at Ohio State last week, Penn State’s amazing against-the-spread run continued — now 15-1-1 vs. the number in the last 17 games. Talent and play-makers, though, are the secondary storyline in East Lansing as the question becomes: How do the Nittany Lions respond to losing control of their College Football Playoff plan? They had the Buckeyes down and almost out before blowing a 15-point fourth-quarter lead. The only good news for Penn State is that Michigan State is also coming off a loss in which it allowed 39 points (in triple overtime to Northwestern). I still don’t think the Spartans are a great team. And while it seems like this is the type of game Mark Dantonio can keep close, I'm not going to ignore the against-the-spread streak. Penn State 28, Michigan State 17
Illinois (2-6, 0-5) at Purdue (3-5, 1-4)
Time, TV: 11 a.m., Big Ten Network
Vegas line: Purdue by 14
Prediction: Purdue was a nice September story, but now the Boilermakers have returned to who we thought they were. Jeff Brohm’s defense gave up 471 yards to wobbly Nebraska and blew a 12-point fourth quarter lead to lose, 25-24. Now it’s must-win time for any chance at a bowl game. Purdue’s run game is more than respectable, at 4.55 yards per attempt. Meanwhile, Illinois has the Big Ten’s worst rushing defense — with Ohio State still to come. The road team has won the past five meetings. That trend is about to change. Purdue 30, Illinois 14
Northwestern (5-3, 3-2) at Nebraska (4-4, 3-2)
Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Vegas line: Nebraska by 1
Prediction: Northwestern has won back-to-back games at home in a combined four overtimes against rugged opponents Iowa and Michigan State. Now it heads on the road, with a lot to play for. This might be the Wildcats’ toughest remaining game, with Purdue, Minnesota and Illinois after this to finish. Meanwhile, the Cornhuskers have discovered a leader in quarterback Tanner Lee, who tossed for 431 yards and the game-winning touchdown with 14 seconds left last week at Purdue. The statistical profiles of these teams are similar; their averages are separated by 2 yards in total offense and 2½ yards of total defense. So, gut feeling time: Nebraska finally makes the home fans cheer. Nebraska 27, Northwestern 24
Maryland (4-4, 2-3) at Rutgers (3-5, 2-3)
Time, TV: 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network
Vegas line: Maryland by 3
Prediction: The Big Ten’s newest members already have combined for more conference wins this season than many predicted. Maryland continues to generate surprising wins with smoke and mirrors, beating Indiana last week despite giving up 35 first downs on the strength of a blocked punt. The Terps defense is just bad, giving up 40.0 points a game in Big Ten play – and they have Michigan State, Michigan and Penn State after this. Rutgers, meanwhile, has the league’s worst offense at 288.0 yards per game and a defense that, like Maryland’s, allows 5.7 yards a play. This seems to be an on-paper tossup. A home team getting points seems to be an OK tiebreaker. Rutgers 23, Maryland 21
Minnesota (4-4, 1-4) at No. 24 Michigan (6-2, 3-2)
Time, TV: 6:30 p.m., Fox
Vegas line: Michigan by 15½
Prediction: On their third try, have the Wolverines found their quarterback? They lost Wilton Speight to injury, and John O’Korn was simply ineffective. Now it’s redshirt freshman Brandon Peters’ turn. He “acquitted himself very well” in a 35-14 win vs. Rutgers last week, according to coach Jim Harbaugh, completing 10 of 14 passes for 124 yards. One thing that hasn’t changed about Michigan, though, is an impressive defense. Even though the Wolverines are just 1-5-1 against the spread in their last seven games, it feels like it could be a challenge for Minnesota to even score at Michigan Stadium. Gophers quarterback Demry Croft is a combined 14-for-44 passing in his two starts. Michigan 27, Minnesota 10
Last week: 2-4-1 vs. spread (3-4 straight-up)
Season: 36-30-1 vs. spread (50-17 straight-up)
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.