To overlook the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl would undoubtedly erase four straight 10-win seasons for the LSU Tigers.
The Hawkeyes are 3-1 against SEC teams in bowl games in the past decade (4-1 if you count Missouri). That's largely due to SEC teams discrediting the Hawkeyes' chances of beating them.
So maybe Iowa isn't the sexiest of opponents. Look, you won't find any distinguished 5-star recruits on the Hawkeyes' roster, but that doesn't mean the Hawkeyes aren't a perennial well-coached team with a ground-and-pound mentality that resembles the Tigers.
Iowa doesn't beat itself, so LSU will have to take up that task. Is that an insurmountable task? Certainly not with LSU's elite talent spread across the field.
However, it's going to take a focused effort.
What to Expect from Iowa Offense
I hope you fans enjoy some checkdown passing action. Nothing fancy here.
While Iowa's offense may provide a few big passing plays on busted coverage (LSU fans immediately cringe), the biggest fear the Hawkeyes instill in their foes involves the running game.
Iowa presents a fullback/tight end-focused offense. A single-back set with dual tight ends and variations of a standard I-formation are the basis of this unit.
The Hawkeyes rely on positive yardage from one of their three primary running backs, Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock or Jordan Canzeri, on first downs. Weisman is a big, sturdy back who has one goal in mind when he runs the ball—run you over. Bullock and Canzeri bring speed to the position.
|LSU vs. Iowa: Tale of the Tape|
|Points Per Game||37||27.3|
|Points Allowed Per Game||22.7||18.8|
|Average Rushing Yards Per Game||200.8||188.5|
|Average Passing Yards Per Game||265.1||200.4|
|Third-Down Conversion Percentage||58.6%||45%|
If the Hawkeyes are forced into a 3rd-and-long situation, Jake Rudock is a capable passer with Kevonte Martin-Manley being his primary target.
Rudock seems to be more comfortable when he's rolling out of the pocket with multiple options to go with the ball. He's a good decision-maker. Dare I say it, he's a game manager. No, that's not an insult, AJ McCarron. Rudock completed 60 percent of his passes for 2,281 yards and 18 touchdowns with 12 interceptions this season.
Going strictly off of the Tigers' struggles in 2013, it's likely Iowa pounds the ball on the inside against LSU, hoping to catch a defensive back napping with timely play-action passes. The Tigers must swarm, though, as breaking tackles is what this Iowa offense does best.
What to Expect from Iowa Defense
You know that whole "Iowa doesn't beat itself" thing I stated earlier? Yeah, look no further than the Hawkeyes' defense to back that notion.
Iowa's front seven pack muscle, 263 average pounds of it. But the most impressive aspect of this defense is the linebacker corps. For those LSU fans who don't know Christian Kirksey, Anthony Hitchens and James Morris, you soon will.
The Hawkeyes run variations of a 4-3 defense, often shifting the linebackers to play the outside shoulder of the offense's tight end.
They're stingy in run defense, as all three linebackers combined for 297 tackles in 2013. Did I mention they were good? They can do more than just meet the running back in the hole too. Just ask Nebraska's Ron Kellogg III, who threw interceptions to Hitchens and Morris in the first quarter two weeks ago.
While Morris' interception came as a result of reading the eyes of an inexperienced quarterback (somewhere Anthony Jennings' interest spiked), Hitchens' was a result of scheme. Iowa simply fooled Kellogg.
First, notice how Iowa defenders are standing at the line and moving around. Just about every time they greet the offensive line with this tactic, a twist occurs at the snap of the ball. With Hitchens playing close to the line, Kellogg assumed he was going to blitz.
Instead, Hitchens dropped back into coverage and intercepted Kellogg's pass.
This is not to say the defense doesn't have its flaws.
The way to beat this defense is by creating extra time for receivers and backs to get open in one-on-one matchups. One way LSU can do this is with Jennings' feet. Ohio State surely did with Braxton Miller's.
Here, the pocket collapsed and Miller kept the play alive with his feet. On a crucial 3rd-and-7, the play broke down, and that's where Iowa's defense fell apart. Again, remember Iowa's defense isn't full of top-shelf athletes, but rather, well-coached players who do their jobs.
After noticing the wall his blockers made for him on his left, Miller reverses field and makes an attempt for the first down with his legs.
His speed allowed him to gain the edge and scamper toward the markers for a critical third down.
Are you taking notes, Jennings?
X-Factor on Offense: C.J. Fiedorowicz
You like stellar tight end play, right? Well, this is the game for you.
In the Hawkeyes' heavily used double-tight end sets, C.J. Fiedorowicz and Jake Duzey make this offense tick.
Whether it's blocking or receiving, both players are vital pieces to this unit. But what makes Fiedorowicz scary is his red-zone presence.
Is this the part where I remind you the Tigers' 2013 red-zone defense has declined by five percent compared to 2012's?
Fiedorowicz has 253 receiving yards and six touchdowns this season, and he's the Tigers' worst nightmare near the goal line.
X-Factor on Defense: James Morris
If you take away anything from this preview, go away thinking, "Man, those Iowa linebackers are pretty darn good."
The man in the middle, Morris, is a fundamentally sound middle linebacker who could give the Tigers' rushing game fits.
Morris leads his team with 14.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. He also leads the team in interceptions with four.
So basically, he's a do-it-all linebacker. Connor Neighbors and J.C. Copeland have to get a hat on Morris, or the Tigers' rushing game will suffer dramatically.
If they don't, his greetings to Hill and Magee in the hole could alter the Tigers' offensive strategy. That's just an example of what kind of an impact Morris can have on this game.
How the Hawkeyes Upset LSU
A failure to complete tackles at the point of attack, a poor performance by Jennings and another no-show by LSU's defensive line will be the Tigers' undoing.
The Tigers need to be commanding on defense, and they need to be assertive on offense.
Attacking the perimeter will be a must to win this football game. Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry are too valuable to LSU's offense to simply play second fiddle behind the Tigers' rushing attack.
If the game is called in a manner that suggests the coaches don't trust Jennings in the passing game, Iowa could hang around and put points on the board after wearing down LSU's defense with long drives.
The Tigers have the better athletes, but the Hawkeyes might be more fundamentally sound. If mistakes pile up and LSU drags early, Iowa could easily put the stamp on LSU.