Through its first six games, Iowa (4-2, 1-1) is the only member of the 125-team Football Bowl Subdivision who has not allowed a rushing touchdown yet this season. Ohio State’s 11th ranked rushing attack plans to put the Hawkeyes’ streak to the test.
The chance to be the first team to reach the end zone on the ground against Iowa this season is “definitely an incentive” for the Buckeye offense, redshirt-senior center Corey Linsley said.
“Coaches don’t need to say too much. They just put a piece a paper on our desk and say, ‘They haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown,’ and we kind of get it,” Linsley said.
Iowa has one of the nation’s best defenses, ranking ninth nationally in total defense with an average of 290 yards allowed per game.
“They’re in the top 10 in America and our kids know that,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said of the Iowa defense. “We’re working really hard. They’re good. They’re really sound.”
Linsley said the matchup with Iowa’s defensive line will be the toughest opposition the OSU offensive line has faced all season.
“They’re physical, they’re tough, they’re big,” Linsley said. “In terms of toughness, in terms of things that we preach and the values that we take, hold to, that’s what they’re about as well on the defensive line.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said he thinks the OSU offensive line will challenge the Hawkeye defense.
“It’s going to be a tough matchup for us,” Ferentz said. “They look good. They’re big, tall, imposing guys. They look like an NFL line, and they (are) extremely well-coached.”
Overall, Ferentz said OSU’s scoring offense, which ranks sixth in the FBS with an average of 46.8 points per game, is “extremely talented.”
“Look at their offense, pick a position and try to find a weakness,” Ferentz said. “Good luck on that one.”
The Hawkeyes are going to have to be prepared for numerous running threats from the OSU offense to keep their streak alive.
Senior running back Carlos Hyde is expected to lead the Buckeyes’ rushing attack Saturday after rushing for 168 yards and three touchdowns against Northwestern Oct. 5.
Additionally, senior running back Jordan Hall, who leads the Buckeyes with 69 rushing attempts, 427 rushing yards and eight touchdowns this season, is expected to be back on the field Saturday, Meyer said, after missing the game against Northwestern with a joint issue in his knee.
“His first way of assisting the team will be on special teams and then he can certainly complement Carlos and be also involved in third downs,” Meyer said of Hall.
As a passer, junior quarterback Braxton Miller has completed 49 of 75 passing attempts for 609 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions this season. His ability to make plays passing the ball will make it tougher for the Hawkeyes to defend the run, Ferentz said.
“They pose a lot of problems in a lot of different areas,” Ferentz said. “They can throw it very effectively … (Miller is) a great running threat, as is (Hyde) … It makes it tough to play defense. You can’t really tilt your team one way or the other.”
Ferentz said he would like the game to be low-scoring but realizes other teams have been unsuccessful in keeping games that way against OSU.
“I’m not a great fan of getting in shootouts any time,” Ferentz said. “I mean if we had a lopsided lead, that’d be OK, I wouldn’t mind that, but not many teams have done that to Ohio State in recent history. Trying to contain their offense, that’s going to be quite a challenge.”
Linsley said it will be important for the OSU offense, who has outscored its opponents 126 to 28 in the first quarter this season, to control the tempo of the game from the beginning.
“We’ve got to score right off the bat, and then after that, we got to manage the clock by running the football,” Linsley said.
While OSU is trying to end Iowa’s six-game streak of not allowing a rushing touchdown, the Hawkeyes will be trying to end a streak that dates back to the start of the 2012 season. The Buckeyes have won all 18 of its games with Meyer as coach, and hold the nation’s longest winning streak.
“They’re approaching 20 straight wins and you don’t do that by accident,” Ferentz said. “It takes more than just having good players … they’ve been very, very consistent. If you look at the rate they’re scoring points and they’re moving the football, that doesn’t happen by accident either.”
Part of the challenge in Iowa’s effort to end OSU’s win streak will be the Buckeye defense, which ranks 15th nationally with an average of 326.2 yards allowed per game and 24th in the FBS with 19.2 points allowed per game.
“We look across, we see a team that’s very, very talented,” Ferentz said. “That includes their defense. They got phenomenally gifted athletes on the back end, I think they’re playing well and certainly that’s the case with the guys up front too … it’s hard to find a weak spot on their football team.”
Iowa’s rushing attack is led by junior Mark Weisman, who has rushed for 624 yards and three touchdowns on 126 attempts this season, and ranks 32nd nationally in yards per game. Weisman said that going against the Buckeye defense is going to be tough.
“They have a great defensive line, great linebackers, good secondary,” Weisman said. “They’ve pretty much stopped every rushing attack this year, so it’s going to be a real tough challenge for us.”
Another challenge OSU could present to Iowa is the environment of Ohio Stadium, where Saturday’s game is scheduled to be played at 3:30 p.m.
“The ‘Shoe is just by nature, it’s one of the tighter, louder places I think in our conference,” Ferentz said. “We’ve been on the road a couple times this year … but we haven’t been in an environment like the one we’re going to be in Saturday and against an opponent like this, so that’s going to be another degree of difficulty.”
If the Buckeyes extend their win streak to 19 games Saturday, they would tie the 2002-03 Buckeyes for the second-longest winning streak in school history.