Analysis: Another Ohio State rout, but Iowa's defense revealed need for improvement

Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio State's victory Saturday was like almost all of them this season. Lopsided.

The Buckeyes rolled over Iowa 54-10, scoring the most points a Kirk Ferentz-coached Hawkeyes team has ever allowed. Considering that Ferentz is the dean of major-college coaches with 24 years in Iowa City, that’s no small feat.

And yet, it was still a struggle on offense for the No. 2 Buckeyes for a while. Four times in the first half, Ohio State took possession in Iowa territory. All four times, they had to settle for field goals. That was disappointing for an offense that had scored touchdowns in 27 of 29 red-zone trips entering the game.

Ohio State running back Miyan Williams is tackled by Iowa's Jack Campbell (31) and Quinn Schulte (30) on Saturday. Williams was held to 19 yards on 10 carries.

The running game never got untracked. Ohio State’s longest run was 13 yards by Miyan Williams, who gained only 6 yards in his other nine carries. TreVeyon Henderson had 11 carries for 38 yards.

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None of the struggles put the game in jeopardy. Iowa’s offense was too feeble to pose a serious upset threat. C.J. Stroud’s four touchdown passes in the second half turned the game into a blowout.

But the issues Iowa’s defense exposed could serve Ohio State well down the stretch if the Buckeyes learn and grow from them.

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“I think it was healthy for us to get a good challenge today,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said.

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud is tackled by Iowa defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness on Saturday.

The Hawkeyes’ defense was the best Ohio State has faced. Iowa was almost never out of position, pressured Stroud more than he’s used to, and swarmed the ball.

“We’re going to have to go back and figure out how we run the ball better,” Day said. “That’s for sure… To say I’m concerned, I wouldn’t say that, but we’re going to need better play moving forward.”

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Day and Stroud attributed some of the offense’s early struggles to the short fields it was gifted.

“The first half was kind of weird,” Stroud said. “It's tough starting with the ball at the (opponent’s) 30 or 40. It's hard to build a rhythm right there. In the first half, we’ve just got to execute better. It's good to get that under our belt, though. We know the second half of the season is very tough.”

Iowa defensive end Joe Evans picks up a fumble by Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud and runs for a touchdown on Saturday.

That’s a matter of debate, at least until the Michigan game and the postseason. The Buckeyes play at Penn State next week, and winning is seldom easy at Beaver Stadium. The Nittany Lions bounced back from their thrashing by Michigan to rout Minnesota 45-17 Saturday night, though the Golden Gophers were without quarterback Tanner Morgan.

Though the Buckeyes’ offense showed some cracks, OSU's defense was stifling. Much of the (dis)credit goes to the Hawkeyes’ offense, which was as bad as advertised. Spencer Petras’ first pass was thrown right to safety Tanner McAlister for an interception. Petras also threw a pick-six to linebacker Tommy Eichenberg and was benched.

Iowa’s offense committed six turnovers and is so inept that it’s hard to truly judge how well Ohio State’s defense played. But coordinator Jim Knowles liked what he saw.

He said he was pleased with the Buckeyes against Iowa’s run game. The Hawkeyes averaged only 2.2 yards per carry, and even that was skewed by a few decent runs in garbage time. Knowles also saw growth in the way Ohio State disguised its pass coverages.

“I like the way our back end is getting a feel for the different coverages that we implement,” he said.

Knowles appeared happiest about the defense’s mentality.

“It doesn't matter what the score is, who we're playing,” he said. “Are we going to operate with the mentality of going out there and stopping them every time? If we're playing with that kind of mentality and their offense is struggling, you see us rise up. The time is going to come when we're going to need that mentality when the game is close.”

The Buckeyes eventually will be tested, whether it’s against Penn State or Michigan or in the postseason. Iowa's offense allowed OSU's defense to continue building confidence. Iowa's defense showed the Buckeyes' offense what it needs to improve.

"For us to win like this, it's good," Day said. "But there's still a lot to improve on and a lot to grow from."

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