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Not much of a rush

BY JON LINDER | NOVEMBER 13, 2009 7:20 AM

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Brandon Wegher was 4 years old the last time Iowa had a 100-yard rusher against Ohio State.

Fourteen years later, the true freshman from Dakota Dunes, S.D., will shoulder the load for a Hawkeye team once again needing to move the ball effectively on the ground to compete with the Buckeyes.

With redshirt freshman James Vandenburg making his first start at quarterback in “The Horseshoe” this weekend, Iowa’s trend of rushing struggles in the series will once again be pushed to the fore.

“We’ve had some challenges in the running game, injury-wise, and we’ve got some in the passing game now, too,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said on Tuesday. “We’re just going to worry about trying to scratch out some first downs, trying to move the ball and scratch out some points.”

Iowa has historically struggled to run the ball against Ohio State. Even the last 100-yard performance in the series came in a blowout loss for the Hawkeyes.

Losing 56-0 in the first half in 1995, Iowa rallied behind Sedrick Shaw’s 133 yards on 31 carries to pull within 56-35 at the end of the game.

Two years later, Tavian Banks posted 84 yards in a 23-7 loss to the Buckeyes. And in 2000, John Cooper’s final season as Ohio State’s head coach, Ladell Betts had 72 yards rushing.

Iowa has not had a tailback rush for more than 50 yards in the series since.

Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, the roots for their rushing woes against the Buckeyes go much deeper than the last two decades.

According to the team’s media guide, the Hawkeyes have had 26 players rush for 175 yards or more in a game. None of those performances was against the Scarlet & Gray.

The only Iowa rushing play of more than 75 yards ever allowed by the Buckeyes was a 91-yard run by Larry Ferguson in 1960.

The current regime in Columbus has frustrated the Black and Gold just as it has in previous eras.

In Iowa’s four games with the Buckeyes since Jim Tressel’s hiring in 2001, the Hawkeyes have managed an average of 65.3 yards rushing per game. The highest team total in the series during that span was in 2004, a year in which the Hawkeyes amassed only 117 yards on the ground against the Buckeyes. Iowa won, 33-7, thanks in large part to a Herculean effort from quarterback Drew Tate.

A year later, Ferentz’s crew posted a net loss of nine yards on the ground in Columbus. Albert Young led all Iowa rushers with 25 yards rushing in the 31-6 loss.

In the last meeting between the schools, in 2006, Young again led Iowa with 48 yards in a 38-17 Buckeye win in Iowa City.

The sledding likely won’t be any smoother on Saturday — the 10th-ranked Buckeyes boast the No. 3 run defense in the country.

The Buckeye defense has held teams to just under 2.7 yards per carry through 10 games this season.

Opponents have managed only six rushing touchdowns against them and are averaging 85.4 rushing yards per game.

Four teams have managed to rush for more than 100 total yards against Ohio State this year, including a 186-yard performance by Navy on Sept. 5. The Buckeyes also boast a net total of just 13 yards allowed to Toledo on the ground on Sept. 19.

The only teams with a stingier run defense this year are No. 2 Texas and No. 3 Alabama.

“I don’t know that we’ve seen a better defense this year,” junior offensive tackle Bryan Bulaga said Tuesday. “Especially on the defensive line, they’ve got a lot of guys who rotate around who all are great players.”


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