By Glenn Guilbeau
BATON ROUGE, La. — Playing a team such as Alabama or Iowa can bring out the primal nature of a football player — particularly a lineman.
In many ways, teams such as Alabama, LSU and Iowa are still playing football in the pre-Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, blog and even pre-email days, and it has not really hurt them.
The Hawkeyes, who play No. 14 LSU at noon Jan. 1 in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., usually prefer to run the football. Iowa (8-4) is No. 41 in the nation in rushing at 188 yards per game and No. 92 in passing at 200 a game. Iowa has had better passing years, such as the 2004 season when it finished No. 37 nationally by averaging 240 yards and beat LSU 30-25 in the Capital One Bowl on a 56-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Drew Tate as time expired.
LSU (9-3) had its best passing season since 2007, but remains committed to the run.
Watching game film last week, LSU defensive tackle Anthony Johnson saw red when he was watching black and gold.
“They are some big boys. They like to run and pound the ball,” he said. “They remind me of Alabama. That’s what I think of when I think of Iowa or Nebraska (19th in rushing at 221 yards per game) — those big boys up north. You think about running the football. They have big running backs. They have a big offensive line. They’re a physical football team.”
Iowa’s offensive line averages out at an SEC-sized 6-foot-5 and 302 pounds with junior Brandon Scherff (6-5, 315) at left tackle and senior Brett Van Sloten (6-7, 300) at right tackle. Scherff has said he will stay for his senior season. He could be a late first or early second round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft if he came out early, according to NFL Draft expert Mike Detillier, and he will be among the top three tackles in the 2015 draft if he does stay. Van Sloten is likely a late-round pick or free agent.
Johnson (6-3, 295) and fellow junior tackle Ego Ferguson (6-3, 308) will be lining up most often against senior guard Conor Boffeli (6-5, 295) and Andrew Donnal (6-7, 305), who is one of the top three junior guards in the nation, Detillier said. And there is sophomore center Austin Blythe (6-3, 300). Alabama’s offensive line averages 6-5 and 306 pounds.
“They’ll probably be some of the biggest offensive linemen we’ve played,” Johnson said. “They’re big, but they move well. They run outside zones and stretch plays.”
Iowa’s leading rusher is 6-1, 236-pound Mark Weisman, a converted fullback.
“Iowa has a very good running team and can control the game behind that big offensive line,” LSU coach Les Miles said.
“I look forward to this kind of game,” Johnson said. “It’s better for us, especially as an interior lineman. The ball gets to come to you a little bit more. You get cutbacks because the defensive ends are going to be playing great technique. So me and Ego, we’re just working on getting better and pushing the pocket and getting in the backfield to make plays.”
Johnson will also be trying to cut down on penalties. He was whistled for no less than four offside penalties in the victory over Arkansas in the regular season finale.
“It was pretty strange,” he said. “I didn’t have a game like that ever in my career. But the offensive linemen were doing illegal stuff. They were screaming out cadence, and they were twisting their hands. But I cost my team some yards. But we played great football, and my teammates backed me up. And I appreciate it.”
Johnson, like Ferguson and several other juniors, are considering leaving for the NFL. So this game could be his last.
“I am thinking about it,” he said. “But first there is this game. It’s a championship for us. We want to hang another banner here at LSU.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football