Hawkeyes to face pesky spread offense in season-opener


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When Tennessee Tech’s football team unveiled its new offensive philosophy, it wasn’t just to give Iowa fits.

The Golden Eagles trailed Jacksonville State, then the No. 4 team in the Football Championship Subdivision, 24-7 in the fourth quarter on Nov. 20, 2010. Then the offense woke up, quarterback Cass Barnes accounted for 213 yards in the final period, and Tennessee Tech scored 28 unanswered points to pull off an upset in the season finale.

In order to quickly make up the deficit, head coach Watson Brown elected to switch to an up-tempo, no-huddle offense. It worked so well that Tennessee Tech, Iowa’s opponent Saturday, has pledged to keep the pace up permanently this season, branding itself “The Fastest 60 Minutes in Football.”

That fast-paced spread offense happens to be exactly the type of attack the Hawkeye defense has struggled with in recent years.

Arizona quarterback Dan Foles threw for 303 yards in a spread offense in beating Iowa on Sept. 18, 2010. Perhaps the best example of Iowa’s struggles against quick-hitting offenses came on Nov. 13 against Northwestern. Led by quarterback Dan Persa, the Wildcats went on consecutive scoring drives of 85 and 91 yards in the fourth quarter to win the game. The Iowa defensive line grew visibly exhausted as Northwestern zipped its way up the field.

Tennessee Tech doesn’t have any players the caliber of Persa or Foles. But quarterback Tre Lamb is one of the team’s 21 returning starters. Lamb threw for 974 yards and 11 touchdowns in eight games last year, and Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz called him a “very exciting performer.”

“They’ve got some players on offense who really grab your attention, starting with their quarterback,” Ferentz said. “They’ve got an attack they’re promoting right now, it’s fast-paced, high-tempo. And I think we’ll see a lot of that this year.”

Cornerback Shaun Prater said facing that type of attack so early in the season will provide a good learning opportunity for the defense. He noted that Northwestern and Iowa State run similar offenses.

“Honestly, with their fast tempo, this is a game that we as a group are looking forward to,” he said. “This challenge is something we can learn from as the season goes on, because other teams in our conference run it as well.”

A key to stopping fast-paced offenses, Iowa players said, was to improve their conditioning. Several defensive players admitting to being tired after the Northwestern loss last season. Prater said that was a point of emphasis not just for this week’s game but all off-season.

“That was a weak point last year,” he said. “But our strength coach made a very serious movement to keep our guys well-conditioned this year.”

Senior defensive end Broderick Binns said the Hawkeyes had worked hard enough on their conditioning to handle the speed of Tennessee Tech and the many other teams on the Hawkeyes’ schedule that play offense at the Golden Eagles’ speed.

“It’s up to us to keep up with their tempo,” Binns said. “But I feel like we are very conditioned. I think we addressed that issue. This [off-season] was — by far — in my five years here the hardest conditioning time we had. Hopefully, it’ll show on Saturday.”

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