Iowa's Outback Bowl Hopes Hang on Shonn Greene, Defense

Kevin TrahanAnalyst IDecember 30, 2008

From the 200-yard, four-touchdown day against Wisconsin, to the stellar performance to beat Penn State, to the hit and run for a touchdown on Purdue safety Frank Duong, to the run that smashed Tavian Banks’ single-season rushing record against Minnesota, it’s been a memorable 2008 season for Shonn Greene.

Greene, who enjoyed his first year back at Iowa after fixing academic issues at nearby Kirkwood Community College, came out of nowhere to become the nation’s best running back and rush for at least 100 yards in every game this year.

But even after the All-American honor, becoming the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player, and receiving the Doak Walker Award for the nation’s best running back, Greene and his fellow Hawkeyes are still looking for one more trophy: the Outback Bowl Trophy.

At the beginning, the season was somewhat of a roller coaster for this young Hawkeyes team. They started out the season looking pretty good, winning their first three games easily against Maine, Florida International, and in-state rival Iowa State.

Then things went south. The root of the problem: inconsistent quarterback play. The Hawkeyes rotated between two quarterbacks, last year’s starter, Jake Christensen, and upstart sophomore Ricky Stanzi. It wasn’t until game seven against Indiana that Stanzi finally solidified himself as the quarterback.

Now that the quarterback was set, everything else fell into place for the Hawks, and they were able to win four of their next five, including an upset win over Penn State and a 55-0 thrashing of Minnesota, and cruise to an 8-4 record.

The main two ingredients behind Iowa’s success this year have been Shonn Greene and their defense. Greene has done much more for this offense than what the stats show. Although his stats are impressive, he has done more than just help the running game. His emergence also opens up the passing game, especially the play action pass.

Iowa rarely does a straight pass. Normally they run or use play action. One of their favorite plays that has worked well this year is a play action play in which Stanzi fakes the handoff to Greene, then rolls out to the right and either finds wide receiver Andy Brodell deep or one of three rotating tight ends.

Although Greene has been important, this defense also helped the Hawkeyes immensely this year. Everyone knew about the defensive line, led by seniors Matt Kroul and unanimous All-Big Ten selection Mitch King. There were many questions in the defensive backfield though, which is very young.

However, the backfield turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Safeties Brett Greenwood and freshman Tyler Sash stepped up and helped contain receivers deep, rarely giving up the big play.

The linebacker corps was one of the best in the Big Ten, as A.J. Edds was great against the run and Pat Angerer led the league in interceptions. Corner Amari Speivey also stepped up and helped fill out a good, young Hawkeyes defense.

After ending the season strong, Iowa now has one last test that can help them greatly going into 2009. The test: an Outback Bowl matchup against South Carolina. The Hawkeyes obviously have the intangibles on their side, being arguably the hottest team in the country, and South Carolina having been blown out in their past two games.

I think the Hawkeyes also have the tangible aspects of the game on their side too. The keys to victory will be the same formula the Hawkeyes have used all season: Shonn Greene and solid defense.

Greene should have some trouble early, seeing that South Carolina has a great run defense. But that run defense isn’t any better than previous opponents such as Penn State. Don’t expect Greene to have a 200-yard day, but I think that he will be able to rush for over 100 yards again and open up plays for the passing game. Stanzi should fare well throwing since both of South Carolina’s safeties are out.

The defense will also play a huge role for the Hawkeyes. If Mitch King and Matt Kroul can get to freshman quarterback Stephen Garcia early (which is likely to happen), the defensive backfield, led by Big Ten interception king Pat Angerer should have a field day against this pass heavy, but interception prone offense.

If the Hawkeyes can use the same formula they’ve been able to use in their past six games, a combination of Shonn Greene and good defense, they should have no problem winning their second Outback Bowl.