It’s hard to shake that feeling that Iowa is just a first-half team.
The Hawkeyes (4-3, 1-2) have led at halftime of every game this season, including last week against the unbeaten Ohio State Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0). Three times, however, the defense has surrendered the lead, and ultimately, the victory. Iowa had a golden chance last week but couldn’t stop a leaky faucet with a bucket of tar. The Buckeyes scored 24 points and kept the ball for most of the half while pulling away to victory. The worse part is they made it look easy, completing wide-open passes and converting multiple third downs during their long scoring drives.
Ohio State, and to some extent Michigan State, exposed the problems the Hawks have struggled with all season: A lack of depth and a vanilla scheme on defense are making it easier for opponents to make adjustments at halftime. The Hawkeyes just don’t have the personnel and experience on defense to do anything other than play base packages and coverages. They can’t blitz or they risk exposing their average secondary to big plays. Iowa’s safeties aren’t big or fast enough to do much more than patrol their area of field. And playing a nickel or dime defense is problematic because miscommunication or missed assignments usually result when non-starters enter the game.
That doesn’t bode well for Saturday against Northwestern.
Sure, the Wildcats are 0-3 in Big 10 play, but two of their best players on offense have been hurt. Running back Venric Mark and quarterback Kain Colter are both capable of big plays. If either one or both play Saturday, it spells trouble for Iowa. The Wildcats moved the ball up and down the field in losing to Ohio State, and likely will do the same vs. Iowa. The Hawkeyes’ bend-but-don’t-break defense got bent, twisted and broke against the Buckeyes. Look for Northwestern to follow the same plan and move the ball continually against the soft Iowa secondary.
Who knows? The Wildcats may even have the lead at halftime.
Prediction: Northwestern 27, Iowa 20.