Leistikow's Iowa football vs. Maryland prediction: Hawkeyes' defense must be a catalyst again

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Maryland brings a high-flying passing game with big-play athletes into Friday night’s football showdown against Iowa. The folks at Fox Sports 1 would love nothing more than offensive fireworks for a national viewing audience. 

The Hawkeyes' defense has other plans.

They're aiming to stink up the show.

The defense, plain and simple, is why Iowa has gone from a No. 18 preseason ranking to No. 5 after a 4-0 start to the season. The Hawkeyes are gaining a reputation as having one of the best defenses in the country, and they’re getting a lot of national credit for that — particularly after what they did against Iowa State and Brock Purdy in a top-10 showdown on Sept. 11.

Friday’s 7 p.m. CT matchup of 4-0 teams offers Phil Parker’s defense another chance to dominate the conversation when it comes to Iowa's place in the national picture.

“All eyes on us,” free safety Jack Koerner said.

Indeed, the challenge is steep for a veteran, tightknit secondary against Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa, probably the best quarterback Iowa faces in the regular season.

Iowa's defense needs to lead the way at Maryland, as it did on the road at Iowa State when Matt Hankins (pictured) recorded two of the Hawkeyes' four interceptions.

It’s strength vs. strength.

Iowa’s defense is known for limiting big plays; the Terrapins want to hit some. Of 23 scoring drives led by Tagovailoa this season, only two have lasted longer than 3 minutes, 55 seconds.

Dontay Demus Jr. (18.6 yards per catch) and Rakim Jarrett (15.6) pose a much greater threat than any set of receivers Iowa has faced this season.

“They like to spread it out and get guys on the perimeter. They’ve got good athletes, they’ve got good speed,” Koerner said. “So that's something that we definitely are preparing for, and it's all about just leveraging the ball. Guys setting hard edges and not letting them use their speed and run unchecked.”

In other words: Iowa wants to muck things up. It has allowed four quarterbacks to average 5.8 yards per passing attempt this season; Tagovailoa is averaging 9.1.

Iowa has six interceptions; Tagovailoa has thrown only one in 147 attempts.

Strength vs. strength. To be settled in Capital One Stadium.

More:Bowl projections: Iowa joins College Football Playoff field, New Year's Six gets shuffled

Iowa wins if …

The defense starts by bottling up the run. Maryland’s read-option attack has produced at least 131 yards rushing in every game this season. Tayon Fleet-Davis (6-foot, 215 pounds) is a very good running back who is averaging 7.1 yards per carry. Keeping Maryland under 100 rushing yards (as Iowa did with Iowa State star Breece Hall) would set up the pass defense for success. Two turnovers on defense and more deep-throw connections from Spencer Petras would help on the Big Ten road.

More:What channel is the Iowa-Maryland football game on? How to watch, listen on Friday night

Maryland wins if …

The Terrapins play clean, disciplined football and cut into Iowa’s major special-teams edge. Maryland is 107th in the country in penalty yardage and has had trouble on kickoff coverage. If the Terrapins can be patient on offense — something Iowa’s defense tests repeatedly — and chew up clock, the opportunity might be there to hit a few game-breaking plays and ride the wave of the home crowd.

More:Iowa football's road trip to Maryland has a 'different' feel, even for Kirk Ferentz

No. 5 Iowa (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) at Maryland (4-0, 1-0)

Time, TV, Tipico Sportsbook line: 7:05 p.m. Friday, Fox Sports 1, Iowa by 3½ points.

Prediction: Iowa 24, Maryland 17. … The Hawkeyes might get outgained by 100-plus yards, but their bend-don't-break defense combined with Charlie Jones' return prowess and an opportunistic offense gets the job done for the program's 11th win in a row. 

Saturday’s Big Ten games

(All times CT, lines from Tipico Sportsbook)

Minnesota (2-2, 0-1) at Purdue (3-1, 1-0)

Time, TV, line: 11 a.m., Big Ten Network, Purdue by 2½

Prediction: The Gophers are coming off a staggering result in which they held woeful Bowling Green to 22 rushing yards but still lost at home. Can P.J. Fleck respond with a divisional road win? Star Purdue receiver David Bell (concussion protocol) might return Saturday. Minnesota 20, Purdue 17

Charlotte (3-1) at Illinois (1-4, 1-2)

Time, TV, line: 11 a.m., Big Ten Network, Illinois by 11½

Prediction: Former Iowa running back Shadrick Byrd has 291 rushing/receiving yards and three touchdowns for the 49ers, who have an upset win against Duke already. Illini quarterback Brandon Peters is completing just 48.2% of his passes. Illinois 26, Charlotte 24

No. 14 Michigan (4-0, 1-0) at Wisconsin (1-2, 0-1)

Time, TV, line: 11 a.m., Fox, Wisconsin by 1½

Prediction: While it seems like the walls are caving in on Wisconsin, it basically threw away the Penn State game and was leading Notre Dame, 13-10, in the fourth quarter before collapsing. The Badgers are great at stopping the run (1.01 yards per carry); Michigan is running wild on everyone (6.29 per tote). Iowa fans should root for the Wolverines. Wisconsin 17, Michigan 14

No. 10 Ohio State (3-1, 1-0) at Rutgers (3-1, 0-1)

Time, TV, line: 2:30 p.m., Big Ten Network, Ohio State by 15

Prediction: The Scarlet Knights did a great job keeping it close in a seven-point loss at Michigan, but they won't have as much luck stopping an Ohio State offense that leads the nation in yards per play (8.60). Ohio State 41, Rutgers 14

Western Kentucky (1-2) at No. 16 Michigan State (4-0, 2-0)

Time, TV, line: 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network, Michigan State by 11½

Prediction: A slippery spot for the Spartans after an emotional, comeback win vs. Nebraska. Western Kentucky is vulnerable against the run (good news for Kenneth Walker III) but averages 8.27 yards per play and took Army and Indiana to the wire. Michigan State 31, Western Kentucky 28

Northwestern (2-2, 0-1) at Nebraska (2-3, 0-2)

Time, TV, line: 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network, Nebraska by 12½

Prediction: The Cornhuskers' metrics are good (hence the sizable spread), but their special teams remain bad. With five of Nebraska's final seven games at home, there's still a path to bowl eligibility. Nebraska 31, Northwestern 20

Indiana (2-2, 0-1) at No. 6 Penn State (4-0, 1-0)

Time, TV, line: 6:30 p.m., ABC, Penn State by 13½

Prediction: While a potential top-five matchup with Iowa looms on deck, the Nittany Lions shouldn't have any problem focusing on Indiana after last season's controversial 36-35 loss to open the season. Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford has been productive (71.6% completions, 289.5 passing yards per game) and has improved on limiting mistakes. The Hoosiers are desperate for a big win. Penn State 30, Indiana 20  

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.