The Iowa Hawkeyes and Michigan State Spartans are seventh and first in the country in total defense. With a big step towards a possible Big Ten Legends division title on the line, Iowa will need seamless execution on offense to win.
The Hawkeyes’ offense has turned the ball over eight times in five games and is converting 52 percent of its third downs so far this season. In order to secure a win against the nation’s stingiest defense, both of those numbers will have to improve for the Hawkeyes.
The key for Iowa to beat the Michigan State defense is variety — causing confusion and putting the Spartans into a reaction mode is a must. Mark Weisman right, middle, left then punt won’t get it done this Saturday.
Despite how dominant the Spartans’ pass defense has been thus far in 2013 (leading the nation with only 130.5 passing yards allowed per game) and how mediocre Iowa’s passing game has been (93rd in FBS with 203 passing yards per game) has been, the Hawkeyes have to commit to throwing the ball. Running the ball 50 times isn’t going to beat Michigan State.
More than any of Iowa’s previous five games, the Hawkeyes could use a second receiver emerging in this game. Wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley has been the lone plausible threat for defenses to worry about when preparing for the Iowa passing game. If either Damond Powell or Don Shumpert can catch 10 passes on Saturday, the task of trying to score on this Spartans’ defense would become much easier.
Damon Bullock being a viable option in the passing game out of the backfield could also be a huge help to the Iowa offense in sustaining drives. Thus far, Bullock has eight catches for 42 yards. If the Hawkeyes can get that many catches from Bullock on Saturday, that’s another look to be able to throw at the Spartans.
Most importantly, quarterback Jake Rudock must remain mistake-free. With the seventh-best defense in the country on his own sideline, Rudock must remember that throwing the ball away and punting is a much better option than risking an interception. Also, if Michigan State plays tight coverage and leaves Rudock room to run, Rudock must make the Spartans pay for that with his feet.
An efficient passing game featuring several targets and Rudock being a threat to run will create running room for Weisman. While Weisman probably won’t reach his season averages in carries or yards, he can still be the focus of the offense — just not then entirety of it.
If Iowa can be varied and execute well on offense, they will go to 2-0 in Big Ten play and stay in the driver’s seat for Indianapolis. The margin for error against the top defense in FBS is small.
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