Expand the Base
After venturing out a little bit week 1, Iowa’s offense returned to its origins and mostly ran plays out of the first page of the playbook. It was inside and outside zones that dominated the play calls. And it was super effective against Iowa State. So, while just lining up and executing was enough to beat down the Cyclones, the NDSU defense isn’t going to be as easy to attack this week and Iowa may need to open things up a little bit more to maintain the success it has had the first two weeks.
I think a more even mix of zone and man blocking can make the run game more unpredictable. (Against Miami it was a lot of man blocking and power looks, against ISU it was almost exclusively zone blocking.) More play action and misdirection could also give Iowa a boost.
The defense has stayed largely in its base look both weeks as well. Despite all the talk about King shadowing Lazard, that didn’t happen at all. Iowa’s only mixed it up on a few downs here and there throwing out their nickel and dime packages. The raider package has yet to be seen and blitzing has been at a minimum. We’ve seen Phil Parker do more with the defense in the past couple years, especially when he has experienced linebackers. Jewel and Neimann are both playing at a high level, so I expect Parker to dial it up as the season goes on.
Exploit the mismatches
It isn’t easy to find an obvious mismatch Iowa has over NDSU. They are a very solid team all around. But this is still a B1G team vs. an FCS team and Iowa has a talent advantage basically across the board. What are the big mismatches that Iowa can exploit though? In Week 1 it was Iowa’s skill players attacking the edge of the RedHawk defense. Again and again, the Hawkeyes were able to get outside, turn the corner, and make big plays in both the passing game (with WR screens) and in the running game (with those toss sweeps). Against Iowa State the advantage was more up front, with the offensive line against ISU’s front seven, and straight up zone blocking often moved the line and created big cutback lanes.
Against most FCS teams, I’d say Iowa should use an attack similar to what they did against ISU. However, NDSU is not most FCS teams. They are big and strong and hit hard, built from the same farmboy mold as Iowa. While Iowa is probably just a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger, I think they have a larger advantage with the skill players. I think an attack more like Week 1 could lead to bigger plays and get the Bison more out of their comfort zone.
Defensively, a lot is going to fall on the linebackers. NDSU will try to establish a power running game. As the players have said this week it’s a similar style to Wisconsin or Michigan State. They use their run game to set up the pass and even though they lost Carson Wentz to the NFL, have a good QB in Easton Stick. He is more of a dual threat QB and has been running the ball about 10 times per game. So the linebackers will have the tall task of stopping the power run game and also limiting what Stick can do. I think they’ll be up for the task, though, and that is one match-up that can really turn the game in Iowa’s favor.
Keep a foot on the gas
Last week one of my factors was to not get too cute. I think that applies this week as well. Last week there was such a big talent gap between the two teams the only way Iowa was losing was if it shot itself in the foot trying to do too much. This week the talent gap isn’t as large and Iowa will need to work harder to build a lead. The key here, though, is to not let NDSU stick around all game. They have a winning culture. They know how to finish and win games. While Iowa showed last year they are also capable of finishing games well, there's no reason to leave things late like that.
This is not the game to run out a no-huddle, 5-wide look to start the second half, just because you haven’t gotten a chance to try it out yet. Iowa will need to make real adjustments at halftime and continue to look for ways to exploit their mismatches. The Hawkeyes need to come out and build a lead early and try to add to it as the game goes on. Put the Bison in a position they aren’t used to being in, needing to come back from behind.
Protect the ball
Iowa has done a fantastic job protecting the ball through the first two weeks. There was a little hiccup on fielding a kick off and a play where Beathard got lit up against Miami (OH), which both resulted in fumbles, but Iowa recovered both and hasn’t had a turnover yet this year. NDSU has four interceptions on the year already and has been able to turn those turnovers into 13 points. Though Beathard hasn’t had a ball in danger of getting picked off yet, this will be his biggest test.
The Bison have turned it over three times this year, losing two fumbles and throwing one interception. If Iowa wins the turnover battle tomorrow, then it wins the game. It should be that simple.
I think North Dakota State comes out early with a good plan to stop the Iowa run game and it takes Iowa a couple of series to settle in as Beathard starts to take over the game. Once the air attack gets going and the Bison D starts to wear down, the ground game will improve and finally strive towards the end of the game.
On the other side of the ball I think it will be a similar story. Iowa will come out and play base defense in the first half and NDSU will get on the board a ew times. At half time Phil Parker will make some adjustments and help coordinate a smackdown defensively in the second half. With Iowa's running game clicking by then, the Hawkeyes pull away in the fourth quarter.
Final Score: Iowa 35 - NDSU 20