Iowa football: All about stopping the run, establishing the run against Wisconsin
Iowa has had its hands full with dynamic quarterbacks and passing attacks this year. Outside of Purdue, the Hawkeyes have put down every challenge. Some of those QBs even got benched.
But this week, in a rivalry game against Wisconsin, the running game takes center stage.
“It’s just a different way of trying to torture you, I guess,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday.
There’s definitely no welcoming party waiting at Camp Randall Stadium.
“You might get run out of the stadium if you’re not ready to go,” Ferentz said. “You know it’s going to be a battle. Yeah, that’s motivating because they’re a tough football team. They always have been.”
That battle is going to take place on the ground more often than through the air.
“I think they were credited for 10 throws Saturday, a lot of fans don’t appreciate that,” Ferentz said. “But I think if you watch the film, if you understand the pressure that they put on you, because they’re just coming at you, they come at you, come at you, all of a sudden one of those things … 70-yard run. My point is they run it for two, run it for three, then all of a sudden there goes that one, somebody doesn’t fit where they’re supposed to fit, these backs both find it really well. You’ve got to tackle them, too. … Two plays, 85, 90 yards, doesn’t matter. That’s the pressure they put on you. They love that game. They just love to make you feel that pressure.”
Applying it for the Badgers in recent weeks is Braelon Allen. The true freshman has 3 consecutive 100-yard games, including a season-high 140 and a season-long 70-yard run on Saturday against Purdue.
Ferentz said he’s seen something like this before, but it’s been a long while.
“Yeah, Tony Dorsett, who is my age,” Ferentz said, referencing the 11-year NFL veteran with Dallas and Denver who retired as the second-leading rusher of all-time behind Walter Payton. (He’s 10th now.) “I think he ran for 100-plus every week his first year in college. Weighed about 165 at Pitt. That was 19 — whatever it was — 73? It doesn’t happen often. What’s really interesting, if you look at their depth chart, the running back position last year versus this year, you’ve got three new names. They’ve really done a good job of addressing that position. That’s one thing, if you think about Wisconsin over the last 25-plus years, usually starts at the running back position. They’ve got somebody, you know who they are, or you soon thereafter learn who they are.”
College football fans know Iowa’s running back, too. But Tyler Goodson has crossed the century mark in rushing just once this year.
“Week in and week out, we always try to focus on consistency, but every game’s not gonna be what you want it to be,” Goodson said. “Sometimes we can tend to get out of our character, and I think that’s what happened going into the bye week.”
Ferentz indicated the biggest difference — literally — is in the offensive lines.
“I can’t imagine there’s anybody bigger in the country, man for man, essential on the offensive line,” Ferentz said. “We’re probably at the other end of the spectrum, quite frankly, size-wise. If you look at sizes of the offensive lines, we’re probably in the bottom 10 percent. Everybody is big now. Their guys are big, strong, and physical. They really try to block you. It’s been that way. This will be the 23rd year I’ve got to witness that firsthand. You know going into it what it is.”
Meanwhile, Ferentz said Iowa’s line has had “too many inconsistencies,” and that’s limited the explosiveness of Goodson and the running game.
“Defensively, sometimes you can get away with a mistake,” Ferentz said. “If they don’t catch you at the right spot, it really isn’t as notable. Tends to be in the running game. You even compound that, you might have a 7, 5-yard gain, somebody doesn’t get a block downfield that is doable, you’re eliminating those plays that are 15, 20 yards, even beyond that.
“Those are the battles we’re fighting. We’re still young, we’re still inexperienced up front. That’s probably our biggest challenge. Hopefully we can take a step forward this week. It won’t be easy. These guys are really good on defense. The run game especially, where they average 55 yards a game. Two hundred is probably not realistic, but we have to run the ball to have a chance to win.”
Goodson remains confident in himself and his teammates.
“Going forward, we know what this team is capable of accomplishing and we want to accomplish winning out the West and winning a Big Ten title,” Goodson said.
Iowa is in control of its own destiny, but the road to those goals goes by bus through Wisconsin — and it starts and stops on the ground. Bring an atlas, not a plane ticket.