BLOOMINGTON, Ind. Although, not the case mathematically, Iowa’s quest for a bowl game will be decided by what happens in the next two games against the two Big Ten teams from Indiana.
The odds of Iowa achieving the minimum bowl requirement of six victories will decrease significantly if it loses at Indiana on Saturday or to Purdue next Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
The Hawkeyes (4-4, 2-2 Big Ten) almost certainly will be an underdog in their final two regular-season games against Michigan on Nov. 17 in Ann Arbor, Mich., and against Nebraska on Nov. 23 at Kinnick Stadium.
That’s why they have to take advantage of the two winnable games still left on the schedule.
“It just gets down to us playing better collectively, and I’m confident we’ll do that,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday.
Playing better collectively also comes down to the opponent. And the two teams from Indiana leave much to be desired, perhaps even more than Iowa does.
Indiana as usual scores lots of points in a variety of ways, but stopping opponents from scoring lots of points continues to be a problem for the Hoosiers. Indiana has scored at least 24 points in every game this season, but opponents have scored at least 31 points in five of the eight games.
Ohio State shredded the Hoosiers by scoring 52 points, but it almost wasn’t enough because Indiana scored 49 points.
It’s reasonable to think that Iowa will have to score at least 24 points to prevail Saturday because it’s unlikely based on the last two games that Iowa’s defense will be the first to hold Indiana below that point total.
Indiana is similar on offense to Northwestern in how it spreads the field and tries to get its playmakers in space by using a quick-strike passing attack. The Hoosiers don’t have anybody as versatile as Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter, who rushed for 166 yards against Iowa last Saturday, but they have dangerous playmakers, including sophomore receiver Shane Wynn, who ranks third in the Big Ten with a 5.1 per-game receptions average.
Indiana has scored 274 points in eight games this season and already has surpassed its 257 point total from last season. The offense is without question getting better under second-year coach Kevin Wilson, even without starting Tre Roberson running it.
Roberson hasn’t played since breaking his leg against Massachusetts in the second game of the season.
His loss provided an opportunity for junior-college transfer Cameron Coffman, who has since seized the moment. Coffman is performing as a sophomore the way Iowa fans thought James Vandenberg would perform this season as a fifth-year senior.
Coffman is ranked second in the Big Ten in completion percentage (63.4) and he completed 33 passes during a 31-27 loss to Michigan State on Oct. 6.
Indiana also leads the Big Ten in passing offense, averaging 286.6 yards per game. That’s nearly 100 more yards per game than what Iowa averages. Iowa is ranked seventh in the Big Ten in passing yards at 192.1 per game.
“They’re certainly making progress,” Ferentz said of Indiana. “They’re a much better team than what we saw (last season).
“If you watch our tape from last year, it’s a very different team, I think”
As for Vandenberg, he’s long overdue to play well, especially on the road. The fact that he’s only thrown three touchdown passes in eight games this season after throwing 25 touchdown passes last season is as disturbing as it is amazing.
But this game should come down to Iowa’s ability to control the clock with its power running game. It’ll be more difficult with the expected loss of 235-pound sophomore running back Mark Weisman to a groin injury.
But even without Weisman, and even without starting left tackle Brandon Scherff and sophomore guard Andrew Donnal, both of whom are out with leg injuries; Iowa still should have enough pieces in place to run effectively against Indiana.
Sophomore Damon Bullock has rushed for at least 100 yards in two of the four games he has started this season.
He’ll also be running against an Indiana defense that is ranked last in the Big Ten in rushing defense, allowing a whopping 222.5 yards per game. No other Big Ten team is allowing more than 194.5 rushing yards per game.
This is a must-win for both teams, but for different reasons. Indiana is trying to rebuild under Wilson, whereas Iowa is trying to avoid slipping back to another rebuilding phase under Ferentz.
Some will argue that Iowa already has sunk to that level.
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Iowa is coming off back-to-back double-digit losses against Northwestern (28-17) and Penn State (38-14) in which it combined to allow 937 total yards in the two games. The Hawkeyes surrendered 349 rushing yards against Northwestern last Saturday and 289 passing yards against Penn State the week before.
Iowa with records of 4-4 overall and 2-2 in the Big Ten still needs two more victories in order to meet the minimum bowl requirement of six victories. Only twice has Iowa not been bowl eligible under Kirk Ferentz, who is in his 14th season as head coach, and that came in his first two seasons as head coach. The last time Iowa didn’t play in a bowl game was the 2007 season, although, that team finished 6-6.
Indiana only has three victories on the season and just one in conference play, but to no fault of the offense. The Hoosiers lead the Big Ten in passing offense with an average of 286.6 yards per game. Sophomore Cameron Coffman has started the last six games at quarterback after replacing the injured Tre Roberson in the second game. Coffman is completing 63.4 percent of his passes and ranks second in the Big in completion percentage.
Iowa has won the last the four games against Indiana, including three by at least 18 points. The series has been competitive, though, with Indiana winning five of eight games from 1998 through 2007.
Despite his season-long struggles, Iowa senior quarterback James Vandenberg moved into select company by passing for 214 yards against Northwestern last Saturday. Vandenberg has 5,074 career passing yards and is one of only seven Iowa quarterbacks to throw for at least 5,000 yards.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football