Up until last Saturday, the 2009 season had been one to remember for the Iowa Hawkeyes. They were 9-0 and getting set to face the Northwestern Wildcats. And things started off great for the fourth ranked Hawkeyes, as Marvin McNutt caught a 74-yard touchdown pass on the first series. But, with a 10-0 lead, quarterback Ricky Stanzi was sacked and fumbled in the endzone, leading to a Northwestern touchdown and Stanzi injuring his ankle. Iowa went on to lose the game 17-10, but more importantly, lost their starting quarterback for the remainder of the regular season.
Now, the rest of the Iowa season falls in the hands of redshirt freshman James Vandenberg, who had a less than impressive debut against Northwestern, going 9-of-27 for 82 yards and an interception. This week, he makes his first career start against the Ohio State Buckeyes in front of 100,000 fans in Columbus.
The much anticipated game certainly has lost a bit of its luster with Stanzi out, but it still will be the most important Big Ten game of the year. It will decide the winner of the conference and the Big Ten's Rose Bowl representative. So for those of you looking for a conference championship in the Big Ten, you got one. Let's break down the matchup.
Why Ohio State will win...
There are 20, check that, 50 reasons why Ohio State will win. They are coming off a blowout of Penn State in Happy Valley, quarterback Terrelle Pryor is at his best, and the defense is one of the best in the country.
While the Buckeyes started out the season slowly, they've turned their season around ever since a loss to Purdue in the early going of the Big Ten season. And they're two wins away from winning yet another outright Big Ten title.
So how can Ohio State beat Iowa to advance to the Rose Bowl? Simple...they need to contain James Vandenberg. That doesn't seem like a very tall order, as Vandernberg was awful against Northwestern's defense. But a game of experience goes a long way, and while Ohio State shouldn't have any trouble containing him, they can't overlook him and not see him as a threat.
Why Iowa will win...
There's really no good reason why Iowa will win. And if they do, it will be a very low scoring game. The first thing the Hawkeyes must do to win this game is play the best defense they have all year. Even a defensive performance similar to the one against Penn State may not be enough. They need to force turnovers to win this game, which is actually a realistic strategy, considering Iowa leads the nation in interceptions.
Secondly, James Vandenberg needs to do just enough. The one thing that Vandernberg cannot do is turn the ball over. He needs to take what the defense gives him and not try to force any throws. If nothing is there, he needs to throw the ball away instead of trying to make anything happen. Even if he has a zero in the touchdown category, the Hawkeyes still have a shot if he has a zero in the interception category as well.
Thirdly, Iowa needs to get to Terrelle Pryor. After a miserable few weeks in the middle of the season, Terrelle Pryor has turned into arguably the Big Ten's best quarterback. But the one thing that could come back to haunt him is his cockiness. He was extremely cocky after the Penn State game, and while that could help him, it could also get him in trouble. If he makes a mistake, that overconfidence could turn into frustration, making him more vulnerable against Iowa's opportunistic defense. This is what happened against Purdue. As is normal for a young quarterback, one mistake led to another, causing him to eventually give away the game due to turnovers.
Then there are the intangibles. While the momentum definitely favors Ohio State, Iowa has played its best this year when it is the underdog on the road. They play down to their opponents, but always rise to the occasion against tough teams. Expect Saturday to be no different.
What will happen...
Ohio State will start out hot and march down the field on their two opening drives. While the Buckeyes will have no problem moving the ball most of the way, the drives will stall in the red zone and Ohio State will be held to field goals, making the score 6-0 heading into the second quarter. That's when Pryor will make his first mistake. Iowa will intercept him in Ohio State territory, but will be unable to move the ball any further, settling for a field goal and a 6-3 deficit going into halftime.
The third quarter will be uneventful, minus another Ohio State field goal, making it 9-3 heading into the fourth quarter. But Pryor, frustrated after not doing much outside of the first quarter, will try to force a throw, leading to another Iowa interception with ten minutes left in the game. This time, Vandenberg will slowly, but methodically lead his team down the field for a touchdown, bringing the score to 10-9. An anxious Pryor will again try to force a throw and be intercepted once again, sealing the deal for the Hawkeyes. For the second straight year, on the second Saturday in November, Iowa will come away with one of its biggest wins in recent history, shocking the college football world and punching a ticket to the Rose Bowl.
To quote Al Michaels, "Do you believe in miracles? Yes!"
Prediction: Iowa 10, Ohio State 9
For an Ohio State fan's perspective, check out Kristofer Green's article.