(Sports Network) - A classic Big Ten Conference showdown will ensue this weekend when the 21st-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes welcome the eighth-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes to town.
Ohio State fell behind early against Penn State last weekend, but the Buckeyes came roaring back to post a 38-14 victory. That win was the third in a row for Jim Tressel's group, which improved to 9-1 overall and 5-1 in conference action. Both Michigan State and Wisconsin are also 5-1 in league play, and the three-way tie for first place with just a couple of games remaining creates an intriguing race for the conference title.
As for Iowa, it sits one game back in the Big Ten standings with a 4-2 record after last weekend's 21-17 road loss at Northwestern. Iowa is 7-3 overall, and the three losses this season have come by a combined total of 12 points. Kirk Ferentz and his Hawkeyes are 5-1 at home, so expect them to play with confidence this weekend.
"It's a tough loss for us and we'll go back to work and see what we can do about bouncing back next week," said Ferentz after last week's loss.
Last season, Ohio State posted a thrilling 27-24 overtime victory over Iowa to extend its lead to 45-14-3 in the all-time series between the teams.
Ohio State is a dangerous offensive team that racks up 41.6 ppg and 455.5 total ypg. Terrelle Pryor continues to lead the squad from the quarterback position, and he has completed 67.2 percent of his passes for 2,136 yards and 22 touchdowns against eight interceptions. As a runner, Pryor has posted 512 yards and four scores, second only to Dan Herron's 824 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. At receiver, both Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey have recorded 43 catches. Sanzenbacher has 716 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, while Posey has posted 664 yards and five scores.
Pryor only completed eight passes against Penn State, but two of those went for touchdowns. Herron was the focus of the OSU offense, as he racked up 190 rushing yards on 21 carries, a tremendous effort by the experienced tailback.
"We run the ball at Ohio State in November and everyone knows that," said Posey. "It's cold and the run works better. You don't move away from what you do well."
The OSU defense deserves just as much praise as the team's offense for the 9-1 record. The Buckeyes have been able to limit foes to 86.9 rushing ypg at a clip of 2.8 yards per carry, and the pass defense has come up with 17 interceptions while permitting a mere six scores through the air. The fact that opponents are moving the chains on just 29 percent of their third down conversion attempts is a credit to the Buckeyes, and many individuals have contributed to the success.
Against Penn State, the defense permitted long touchdown drives of 10 and 11 plays in the first 19 minutes of the contest. Fortunately, Ohio State shut the door the rest of the way, holding Penn State scoreless for the final 41 minutes. Both Devon Torrence and Travis Howard returned interceptions for touchdowns in the clash, and the Buckeyes held the Nittany Lions to 272 total yards.
"Those kinds of plays take games over," said Ohio State defensive tackle Dexter Larimore of the interception returns for touchdowns. "It was big for momentum change. Tonight those made the difference."
Iowa is generating 30.8 ppg and 405.9 total ypg this season, numbers strong enough to get the attention of Ohio State. The Hawkeyes have done most of their damage through the air, as quarterback Ricky Stanzi has completed 66.4 percent of his passes for 2,482 yards and 22 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. Marvin McNutt has been a productive receiver with 41 catches for 660 yards and six touchdowns, but Derrell Johnson-Koulianos has been even better, as his 41 catches have resulted in 673 yards and nine scores. As for the ground attack, Adam Robinson has posted 914 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Robinson managed 108 rushing yards in the loss to Northwestern last week, and Stanzi threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns, including a 70-yard scoring strike to Johnson-Koulianos. The Hawkeyes committed just one turnover, but it was a big interception by Stanzi that may have dashed Iowa's hopes of winning the Big Ten.
"We lost because I threw a stupid interception, and they switched the momentum," said Stanzi after the contest.
Opponents are scoring 15.0 ppg against Iowa, which is yielding only 307.0 total ypg. The Hawkeyes are tough to run against, as they are permitting just 86.8 ypg and 2.9 yards per carry. They have been solid against the pass as well, allowing only 9.8 yards per completion. With 18 sacks and 19 takeaways, there is room for more big plays, but the overall performance of the defense has been tremendous.
Northwestern posted 419 total yards against Iowa, which was shredded for 318 passing yards. The Hawkeyes permitted only 2.6 yards per rushing attempt, but there is no doubt that the proud defenders aren't thrilled with what was a mediocre overall performance.
In a game that features a pair of evenly matched teams, it is often wise to go with the home team. Therefore, give a slight nudge to Iowa for no other reason.