Iowa kicks off tough stretch with Ohio state
IOWA CITY (AP) — An accommodating schedule and perfectly placed bye week put Iowa in position for a good start.
It's about to become more difficult for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) will finish 2013 against opponents who are a combined 25-11, with nearly half of those losses coming from Purdue.
The Hawkeyes lost every game they played in the second half of 2012, but they're confident that the strides they've made will help them avoid another collapse. They kick off a grueling stretch on Saturday at No. 4 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0).
"We're just a better defensive team that we were a year ago, and I'd say the same thing about our offense," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Everything is more cohesive today than it was a year ago."
Injuries were one of the biggest reasons Iowa finished last season on a six-game losing streak, and the Hawkeyes saw a number of players go down in a 26-14 loss to Michigan State on Oct. 5.
This time, it appears as if last week's bye gave everyone enough time to get healthy.
Running back Mark Weisman was among a half-dozen starters who missed time in the loss to the Spartans with various bumps and bruises. Weisman, who is third in the Big Ten with 104 yards rushing per game, was limited to just 9 yards against Michigan State because of a foot injury.
Weisman is one of Iowa's most important players, and he is expected to start on Saturday. He ranks seventh nationally with 126 carries.
"Another good defense, another good test," Weisman said of the Buckeyes. "We have to worry about us. That's all we can worry about now."
Wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley, defensive linemen Dominic Alvis and Carl Davis, linebacker Christian Kirksey and offensive tackle Brandon Scherff also have been listed as starters this week after missing snaps during the Michigan State game.
Ferentz indicated Tuesday that all those key contributors should play against Ohio State.
"We would have been in a little bit of trouble if we would have played (last) Saturday," Ferentz said. "Fortunately we didn't."
Iowa might have trouble scoring against the Buckeyes no matter who plays.
The offense that hung 59 points on Western Michigan and racked up nearly three times as many yards as Minnesota was essentially non-existent in the loss to the Spartans.
Michigan State's top-ranked rushing defense took away Iowa's ability to do anything on the ground, forcing the run-heavy Hawkeyes to throw the ball 46 times.
Though Jake Rudock did throw a pair of touchdown passes for a brief 14-10 lead, Michigan State made Iowa's offense one dimensional and shut it out in the second half.
Ohio State is nearly as strong on defense as the Spartans. The Buckeyes are 24th in the country at 19.2 points allowed per game despite a secondary that's been leaky at times.
"You always want to have a good balance," Rudock said. "It's good just to mix it up and keep the defense guessing."