Brown: Strong November would propel Iowa to big things

Rick Brown
Adam Cox, Iowa teammates primed for big November

The schedule has turned to November, a time when college football’s cream rises to the top. That’s been the formula for coach Kirk Ferentz’s best teams at Iowa, too.

Both his 2002 and 2004 Big Ten championship teams went 3-0 in November. His 2003 team went 3-1. All three of those teams won at least 10 games. The only team to get to at least 10 wins without a strong November under Ferentz was in 2009. They lost two of three games that month, but finished with 11 victories after a 24-14 triumph over Georgia Tech in the Orange Bowl.

Ferentz teams are 29-28 in November, and only one of the last six teams has enjoyed a winning month — 3-1 in 2013. The Hawkeyes were 2-3 last season; 0-4 in 2012; 2-2 in 2011; 1-3 in 2010; and 1-2 in 2009.

Success this November will give Ferentz his fifth season of double-digit victories. Three victories in the final four games will put the Hawkeyes in the Big Ten Championship game Dec. 5. The road to the title game in Indianapolis starts 50 miles to the south Saturday, when Iowa visits Indiana for a 2:30 p.m. game (ESPN).

The Hoosiers, coming off a bye week, are 4-4 overall and 0-4 in the Big Ten. Iowa’s final four Big Ten opponents have a 3-14 league record. The Hawkeyes remained 10th in the latest Associated Press poll and 11th in the Amway/USA Today Coaches poll released Sunday. On Tuesday, they’ll find out where they stand in the first College Football Playoff poll.

“College football, it's a one-game playoff every week for everybody, whether it's the championship race or a bowl game or a better bowl game,” Ferentz said. “You only play 12 games, so you better take advantage of each week. It’s not like you get 162 of them.”

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Healing Hoosiers

The bye week should have given Indiana’s one-two offensive punch time to heal. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld and running back Jordan Howard both suffered ankle injuries against Ohio State Oct. 3. Sudfeld missed one game, but has played in the last two, including a 308-yard, three touchdown performance in a 52-28 loss at Michigan State on Oct. 24. Howard missed two games before returning to rush for 78 yards against the Spartans.

Sudfeld started in the Hoosiers’ 45-29 loss at Iowa last season, but injured his non-throwing shoulder and had to have season-ending surgery.

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Clash of strengths

Defense has carried Iowa this season. The Hoosiers rely on offense.  That tug-of-war will be something to keep an eye on Saturday.

Iowa ranks in the top 10 nationally in three key defensive categories: fifth in rushing defense (85.8 yards per game); sixth in scoring defense (15.3 points); and seventh in total defense (287.6 yards). Indiana will challenge those numbers with a team that averages 33.1 points per game and 467.6 yards of total offense (287 passing, 180.6 rushing).

Teams have had the most success passing against Iowa. The Hawkeyes are allowing 201.9 yards a game. Iowa is much better stopping the run, allowing just one rushing touchdown all season. Maryland quarterback Perry Hills became the first Iowa opponent to rush for more than 100 yards on Saturday. He finished with 104.

Howard is averaging 131.2 yards a game. Last season, Tevin Coleman torched the Hawkeye defense by rushing for 219 yards on just 15 carries, and scoring on touchdown runs of 83, 45 and 69 yards.

Indiana’s go-to receivers are Ricky Jones (37 catches, 669 yards), Simmie Cobbs Jr. (34 catches, 532 yards) and Mitchell Paige (31 carries, 365 yards).

Swiss cheese defense

That best describes the Indiana defense. The Hoosiers have allowed 37.3 points per game, and are 119th nationally in total defense at 508.6 yards a game. Hoosier opponents have averaged 342.1 yards passing per game.

Bloomington or bust

Iowa has not played well in its last two visits to Memorial Stadium.The Hawkeyes were ranked 15th in 2010 when they escaped with an 18-13 victory. The winning touchdown, a 52-yard Ricky Stanzi to Marvin McNutt connection, came with just 2 minutes, 50 seconds remaining. Iowa survived when Damarlo Belcher dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone with 28 seconds left.

Iowa lost on its last visit to Memorial Stadium in 2012. The Hawkeyes  jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead on a 24-yard touchdown pass from James Vandenberg to Kevonte Martin-Manley and linebacker Christian Kirksey’s 18-yard interception return. But the Hoosiers rallied for a 24-21 victory.