Hawkeyes hope to create a long-drive contest
IOWA CITY — Nate Stanley appreciates the work that Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett has put into his game this season.
Iowa’s first-year starting quarterback understands how difficult it is for the Buckeyes’ senior to lead an offense that has piled up 500 yards and 300 passing yards in each of its last six games.
Orchestrating it all, Barrett has completed 75 percent of his passes since third-ranked Ohio State lost a 31-16 game to Oklahoma during the second week of the season, and for the season he has thrown 25 touchdown passes while being intercepted just once.
He arrives at Kinnick Stadium for Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. game against the Hawkeyes after completing his final 16 passes to rally the Buckeyes past Penn State 39-38 last weekend.
That’s a lot of work and a reason why Stanley would like to give Barrett a bit of a breather this week.
“They have a really high-powered offense that can put up a lot of points,” Stanley said. “If we can establish long drives and maintain field position and time of possession, it will help our defense a lot. Just being able to keep guys like J.T. off the field, that would be big for us.”
Stanley believes the Hawkeyes’ best opportunity for an upset — something Iowa has accomplished in three of the last four times it has hosted a top-five opponent — comes from turning Saturday’s game into a long-drive contest.
“The longer the ball is in our hands, the less they can do with it,” Stanley said.
To accomplish that, coach Kirk Ferentz said the Hawkeyes will need to craft a nearly error-free game.
“We need to find a rhythm offensively and then just take care of the basic things such as ball security, eliminating the penalties that are drive-stoppers,” he said.
Dropped passes, holding penalties and technique flaws combined to prevent the Hawkeyes from settling into an offensive flow throughout much of last weekend’s 17-10 win over Minnesota.
Iowa punted nine times in that game, including twice after first-half holding calls helped stall the Hawkeye offense.
“Those are momentum killers,” Ferentz said. “If you’re a high-powered, explosive veteran offense, you’ve got a chance to maybe overcome those things. Major penalties, dropped balls that could have been positive plays or the plays we haven’t hit, that’s the difference between a team that’s in sync and one that isn’t quite there yet.”
Ferentz believes the Hawkeyes are close in a number of areas.
“That’s the race we’re running right now. We’ve got to keep pushing as hard as we can and see if we can get up and over the hump,” he said.
Iowa has shown the ability to sustain drives this season, scoring 19 of its 24 touchdowns on drives of 60 or more yards and putting together 12 touchdown drives of 10 plays or more.
Only three of those drives of 10 or more plays have come since the start of the Big Ten season, however.
“We’ve got to get that going again,” running back Akrum Wadley said. “And, we’ve got to score, we’ve got to finish. We have to finish drives. We can’t leave anything out there, not against these guys.”
Tight end Noah Fant said those drives can take a multitude of forms, from moving the ball on the ground to controlling things through the passing game.
He suspects it will take a combination for Iowa to successfully deal with the Buckeyes.
“We need to keep them off balance, keep them guessing a bit,” Fant said. “I know the coaches will come up with a plan to help us make that happen.”
Mostly, Wadley said the Hawkeyes have to compete against an athletic, physical Ohio State defense.
“We’ve got to make it a fistfight,” he said. “We don’t have to do anything different than what we’ve been doing. We just have to do it better.”
That involves intensity and precision in execution.
“We have to be on top of our game. This is a week where we have to be at our best,” Stanley said. “We’ve shown that we can compete against some of the best teams in the conference. We’re right there, but the difference is making sure that we don’t beat ourselves. We can’t afford mistakes.”