Ohio State faces an Iowa football team solid on defense, inept on offense

Two men at the heart of the most interesting game of Saturday’s Ohio State-Iowa game go back a long way.

More than two decades ago, current OSU offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson and Hawkeyes defensive coordinator Phil Parker were young Mid-American Conference coaches. Wilson was in Miami, Parker in Toledo.

Budgets were tight, so Wilson, Parker, and an aide from Kent State would share a car and recruit together from Greater Columbus high schools in the spring.

“We would show up together and say, ‘Who do you have?’ because we thought if three of us showed up, they would actually talk to someone from the MAC,” Wilson said.

Wilson and Parker have become golf buddies. When Wilson was head coach at Indiana, he tried to hire Parker.

“He’s a terrific coach,” Wilson said.

Now their paths meet.

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Iowa’s offense is horrible. More on that later. But the matchup between Ohio State No. 3’s explosive offense led by coach Ryan Day and Wilson against Parker’s Iowa defense is compelling.

Kirk Ferentz’s Hawkeyes (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten) have allowed more than 14 points only once this season — a 27-10 loss to Michigan three weeks ago. They rank third nationally in point defense and passing yards allowed, and seventh in total defense.

“They play with great leverage up front,” Wilson said. “They have great hand discipline. They come out of blocks and occupy double teams and release (line) supports.

Wilson said the Iowa high school plays with discipline and understands his reads, which allows him to get deflections that translate into interceptions. The Hawkeyes are exceptionally good at limiting big plays.

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“We worked hard trying to figure out how to attack them,” Day said. “They’re very good at what they do, and the minute you think they’re not going to change it, they do. There’s a reason they’re so good, and year after year they’ve been one of the best defenses in the country.

Day saw it with his own eyes when the teams last met five years ago. He was in his first year on Urban Meyer’s team when Iowa got a six pick on OSU’s first snap, the first of four interceptions in the Hawkeyes’ upset 55-24 win.

The scars from that game, Day said, remain fresh.

Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud has thrown for 1,737 yards and 24 touchdowns this season.

The difference between this Iowa team and the current one is on the other side of the ball. That’s why the Buckeyes are a 30-point favorite.

To say the Hawkeyes offense is inept is giving it too much credit. You might want to save your restroom breaks for when Iowa gets the ball. But don’t linger.

Hawkeyes rank 131st nationally – dead last – in total offense, gaining just 238.7 yards per game. Ohio State averages 543.7.

Star linebacker Jack Campbell and Iowa rank third nationally in points defense and passing yards allowed, and seventh in total defense.

Iowa scored just seven offensive touchdowns, fewer than Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. (9) and running back Miyan Williams (8) each scored. Hawkeyes quarterback Spencer Petras threw just two touchdown passes, 22 less than OSU counterpart CJ Stroud.

“They want to run the ball,” Ohio State Safety Ronnie Hickman said. “They want to control the clock, so we have to leave the field on the third down.”

The problem for the Hawkeyes is that they’re not doing very well either. Iowa is averaging just 2.6 yards per carry.

As stingy as Iowa’s defense is, the dam is likely to break unless its offense can come to life. The problem for the Hawkeyes is that the Buckeyes’ defense under new coordinator Jim Knowles has been solid. Ohio State is fifth in total defense (253.5 yards per game) and 10e in scoring defense (15.7 points per game).

Iowa ranks third nationally in scoring defense and passing yards allowed, and seventh in total defense.

These rankings are likely to improve if Iowa’s offense falters like it has.

But Day doesn’t want his defense to take his foot off the pedal. The Buckeyes have been dominant this season, and that’s largely because they haven’t allowed themselves to get complacent.

“I think we’ve made some progress,” Day said of the OSU defense, “but the goal is to be the best in the country at everything we do. That’s just the way which we discuss our work here. There have been some very good things, but that was the first half of the season. Now let’s move on to the second half of the season. Nothing that we have done in the past has more importance.

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