Can one sack by Northwestern's Corey Wootton (and the subsequent injury to Iowa's comeback quarterback Ricky Stanzi) really turn the Hawkeyes into a bunch of pushovers?
A group that seemingly had destiny on their side and posted the single best start to a season in 120 years of Iowa football is now reduced to a mound of poo with a freshman backfield and no chance of beating the mighty Buckeyes in the 'Shoe?
The national media seems to think so, a suddenly confident Buckeye fan base seems to think so, and even a somewhat defeated Iowa fan base may think so.
But, Kirk Ferentz doesn't believe that and has spent this whole week making his players believe it. Furthermore, I can almost guarantee you Jim Tressel doesn't believe it and has spent the week making his players not believe it.
In a game for all the marbles or all the roses, there can be no other thought.
Ferentz deserves National Coach of the Year recognition for the job he has done with this Hawkeye team this season.
Not because his team began 9-0 and not because he reached No. 4 in the country, but because he did those things despite losing an unreal number of starters to injury over the course of the season.
Ferentz and his team are now facing their toughest and most important challenge of the season and they must do it without their quarterback and their most vocal offensive leader while facing the disappointment of what could have been.
But, there are plenty of reasons why Iowa fans should keep the faith and plenty of reasons why Ohio State fans should come back to earth.
The Hawkeyes and Buckeyes like to do it the same way.
By using outstanding defense and special teams play to dictate field position, the coaches can run a run first oriented offense and sprinkle in a down field pass when the situation dictates.
It is Big Ten football at its best and on Saturday you can certainly expect more of the same.
When Iowa has the ball...
Ferentz will work hard to establish a running game with Brandon Wegher and Paki O'Meara (or anyone else who can prove to tote the rock). It will keep the pressure off Stanzi's true freshman replacement James Vandenberg who will be making his first career start in one of the biggest games in Hawkeye history.
The Buckeye defense has proven that running the ball on them is close to impossible. OSU has not allowed a 100 yard rusher all season and leads the Big Ten in rush defense, but Iowa must find a way.
The line must block the continuous onslaught from Buckeye ends Thad Gibson and Cam Heyward who have become accustomed to getting into the backfield this season. And if those two don't get there in time, be sure Ross Homan, Brian Rolle, or Kurt Coleman will be there soon.
If the Hawkeyes cannot establish a running game and must rely on Vandenberg to throw the ball a lot, it could turn onto a long day for the black and gold.
When Vandenberg is called on to complete a pass, his best friend could be tight end Tony Moeaki.
Moeaki is quick and has sure hands (usually) and could gain some big chunks for the Hawkeyes against an aggressive Buckeye front. Of course a timely bomb to Marvin McNutt or Derrell Johnson-Koulianos would be icing on the cake.
The Hawkeyes cannot get behind in the downs. Third and long will be heaven for the Ohio State defense and Vandenberg completed only two passes (out of 12) last week in throws of 10 yards or more.
A ball hawking Buckeye defense will be looking to take the ball away on every down, so ball security (a problem all season for the Hawkeyes) will be crucial. The Iowa offense cannot afford to turn the ball over. The margin of error is too slim.
When Ohio State has the ball...
Terrelle Pryor and the Ohio State offense has not lit the world on fire this season, but they aren't quite as terrible as many people like to label them either.
Pryor and the Buckeyes did hang 24 offensive points on the league's leading defense in Happy Valley last week and seem to be coming into their own.
But, this is the same Buckeye offense that is capable of five turnovers in a loss to a then 1-5 Purdue team and its the same offense that needed three touchdowns by defense and special teams to pull ahead of Wisconsin at home.
Which offense will show up this week against a pretty good Iowa defense?
For the Buckeyes to win, much like their opponent, they must run the ball. At times the running game has been a problem this season with the Buckeyes using a running back by committee approach much of the season.
Daniel "Boom" Herron and Brandon Saine have carried the majority of the load and are both coming off of a nice showing against the Nittany Lions.
A key for the Hawkeyes (and any team that plays Ohio State) will be to contain Pryor and keep him from breaking off huge chunks with his feet. A difficult proposition for most teams is made even more difficult for the Hawkeyes in this game.
Since Ohio State and Iowa did not play each other last season, this will be the first time Ferentz and the Hawkeyes see Terrelle Pryor live and in person. There is no way to fully understand Pryor's strength and speed on film.
You can see him break free of a sack and you can see him run away from oncoming defenders, but you cannot fully appreciate what you are up against until you are actually chasing him or trying to pull him down.
For Adrian Clayborne and Pat Angerer, the more times they can get in Pryor's face the better. A frustrated Pryor is not a good thing for Ohio State.
In order for that to not happen in the 'Shoe, the Buckeye offensive line must have another superb showing. The line has been hit and miss this season as Tressel has had to shuffle the line because of injuries for almost every game.
Playing for all the Roses...
Even with Stanzi, the Hawkeyes trip to Columbus would have been their toughest game of the season.
The Buckeyes own a commanding 44-14-3 lead in the all-time series with Iowa, which includes a 27-8-1 mark in Columbus. The Buckeyes have won 10 of the last 11 meetings dating back to 1992.
Under Jim Tressel, no team in the Big Ten has a winning record against the Buckeyes and his teams have been the most dominant team in the conference the better part of a decade. Yet, Ohio State has not reached the Rose Bowl since John Cooper's Buckeye's beat Jake Plummer, Pat Tillman, and the Arizona Wildcats in Pasadena in 1997.
Though Tressel's teams have had many exciting bowl opportunities over the course of his tenure, a Rose Bowl is different for a coach that relishes tradition.
But Tressel knows in order for his team to beat the Hawkeyes and reach the ultimate Big Ten bowl game, the margin for error is slim despite the changing fortunes of the two teams.
"It's pretty hard to be more nervous than I am normally," he said. "It is harder to handle success, it's just the truth, but I'm probably most concerned with the fact that I know how good Iowa is."
For the players, a chance at redemption after everyone had written them off following a loss to Purdue could be reason enough to not lose focus this week and tight end Jake Ballard says the Buckeye's are well aware of the enormity of this game for Buckeye pride.
"After it's all said and done, people looking back on this season will say that Penn State and Iowa were turning points of that season," Ballard said, finally catching on to what was at stake. "And the Buckeyes really came together."
The Buckeye defense shuts down the Hawkeye running game and the Ohio State defensive front keeps freshman quarterback James Vandenberg rattled through most of the game.
On offense, the Buckeyes play another week of almost flawless Tressel-ball. Field position and clock management will rule the day and the difference in the game will come down to a big play by the Buckeyes on defense or special teams.
The Buckeyes currently sit as 16 point favorites. I think that is a bit too high, but the Buckeyes will still win convincingly. These are the games Jim Tressel led teams live for and the Buckeyes will head back to the Rose Bowl with a 27-17 win over the Hawkeyes.
For the Iowa perspective, check out Kevin Trahan's article.
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