How did Ohio State handle test from Iowa's stingy defense? | Reporters roundtable

Joey Kaufman Bill Rabinowitz
The Columbus Dispatch

Editor's note: After each Ohio State football game, beat reporters Joey Kaufman and Bill Rabinowitz discuss the lasting storylines and other key developments.

Ohio State opened the second half of the regular season with another blowout.

It dismantled Iowa in a 54-10 win on Saturday afternoon, remaining unbeaten ahead of a Halloween weekend trip to Penn State.

But the rout of the Hawkeyes was a little atypical for the Buckeyes as their high-scoring offense was unable to pour on points out of the gate, reaching the end zone only once before halftime until ultimately striking for four touchdowns in the second half.

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Some moments weren’t pretty, but Ohio State remained in control throughout the game and put together the most points any team has scored against Iowa in more than two decades of the Kirk Ferentz era.

Kaufman: The possibility of the Buckeyes getting an upset scare was a far-reaching one due to Iowa’s limitations on offense, but the Hawkeyes presented a compelling challenge in one facet: Their defense is among the best in the Football Bowl Subdivision. It has good discipline up front, is assignment sound and rarely suffers from the lapses in coverage that lead to big plays. There are All-Big Ten standouts between linebacker Jack Campbell and cornerback Riley Moss, too. This is the caliber of outfit Ohio State might face in the College Football Playoff, and it handled the challenge well all in all, right?  

Rabinowitz: The game played out similarly to how I thought it would. I figured Iowa's defense could frustrate the Buckeyes, and it did. Still, it was disappointing that OSU had to settle for four field goals on drives starting in Iowa territory in the first half. But given how awful Iowa's offense is, getting points in any increments was going to suffice. What we saw in the second half with C.J. Stroud throwing for four touchdowns is more what we've become used to. It should be pointed out, though, that the Buckeyes' run game never really got established. OSU's running backs gained only 57 yards in 21 carries. That'll need to be fixed.

Running back Miyan Williams had 19 yards on 10 carries, and nine out of Ohio State's 30 rush attempts went for no gain or negative yards in a 54-10 win over Iowa.

Kaufman: That anemic ground game hurt the Buckeyes in the red zone. Before Saturday, they had finished with touchdowns on 27 out of their 29 trips inside the 20-yard line. Against Iowa, they produced four touchdowns on seven red-zone trips. Three times they settled for field goals. The Hawkeyes are among the nation’s best when the field shortens, and Ohio State found that out with some fits in the red zone that were reminiscent of last fall.

Rabinowitz: That's certainly going to be a point of emphasis this week as they prepare for Penn State. The Buckeyes should be able to control the line of scrimmage against the Nittany Lions. Michigan certainly did against Penn State. If Ohio State doesn't, that'll be a red flag. I'm more inclined to chalk up Saturday's running performance as an aberration. But one game can be dismissed as a blip. Two is a trend.

Kaufman: It should be pointed out as well that running backs TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams were making their returns after being banged up in recent weeks. Their health might have been a factor. But I’d chalk up some issues against the Hawkeyes to a lack of running room at the line of scrimmage. Nine out of the Buckeyes’ 30 rush attempts went for no gain or negative yards, a rate of 30% that was the highest all season.

Rabinowitz: Iowa's emphasis was clearly on stopping the run and trying to keep OSU from throwing deep. The Hawkeyes were mostly successful, though let's not forget that the Buckeyes did score 54 points. This was hardly an offensive disaster. It's a testament to how unstoppable OSU has looked that we're nitpicking here. Ohio State has perhaps the most explosive offense in the country. If Stroud has time, he'll pick any defense apart.

Kaufman: The set of circumstances, a top-five offense going up against a top-five defense, make it a matchup worthwhile of the scrutiny. The Hawkeyes’ unit is a playoff-caliber one. On the other side of the ball, Buckeyes’ revamped defense looked as suffocating as it’s been all season, but few offenses are as hopeless as Iowa’s. One of the most encouraging developments for Ohio State was the takeaways. It forced six turnovers, as many as it had in the first six games, and the most it’s had since a win over Tulsa in 2016.

Rabinowitz: It's hard to say how much was Ohio State's defensive excellence or Iowa's offensive ineptitude. I'm not sure I've seen a worse Big Ten offense. But there's no question several players stepped up. Zach Harrison was the ringleader, but Tommy Eichenberg, Lathan Ransom and J.T. Tuimoloau all stood out. It is clear how much these guys enjoy and are flourishing in Jim Knowles' scheme.

Kaufman: The Buckeyes should ultimately feel pretty good about keeping a conference opponent’s offense out of the end zone. It didn’t happen in either of the past two seasons with Kerry Coombs as defensive coordinator. That’s progress. They now rank No. 2 in the FBS in total defense and No. 5 in scoring defense.

Rabinowitz: Now it's on to Penn State. The Nittany Lions have usually played Ohio State tough, especially at Beaver Stadium. This won't be a White Out crowd, which creates one of the best atmospheres in college football. The Buckeyes are a 15-point favorite, which seems about right. Penn State has enough athletes to make the game interesting, but Ohio State should have too much firepower on offense and a stout enough defense to prevail.

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