Hawkeyes prepare for tough defense, sharp run game of Michigan State


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Mark Weisman can run straight through defenders. Le’Veon Bell can jump over them.

Both Iowa and Michigan State have powerful running backs on their roster, coupled with a stonewall defense boasting stats that lead the conference.

Iowa’s scoring defense is tied for first in the Big Ten, and Michigan State is in fourth. The Hawkeyes and Spartans are third and fourth in rushing defense, respectively.

Both teams have the ability to stop the run but also have chart-topping running backs who can continually defy those trying to stop them. Bell’s 776 yards slot him at second among the Big Ten’s rushers. Weisman’s 515 yards make him fourth.

Weisman has been scouting the Spartan defense on film, trying to watch every scrap of video he can on them.

“They’re a tough defense; they’re a physical defense,” he said. “They play hard and play through whistles, and they tackle pretty well, too, so they’re going to be a big challenge for us, a tough physical team.”

Vandenberg said Weisman’s running strategy — to run strictly north-south and simply hit his defenders harder than they hit him — conflicts with Michigan State’s success in stopping the run. To compensate for the likely hindrance on the Iowa rush game, Vandenberg will have to up his pass efficiency.

“When you play a really good defense, which Michigan State certainly is, you can’t be one dimensional in any way on any down. You’ve got to do it all, all the time and try to keep them on their toes,” Vandenberg said. “We’ve got to mix it up as much as possible to make sure they’re not teeing off on us.”

Vandenberg doesn’t even crack the top 10 in Big Ten pass efficiency, but the signal caller’s throwing improved exponentially against Minnesota — he threw for 192 yards.

The Spartans, however, have signal caller Andrew Maxwell who averages 238 yards a game in the air. And Maxwell is coupled with Bell, who runs for 129 as well.

Bell will be a challenge for the Iowa defense, just as Weisman can potentially be for the Spartans.
Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said the “big, powerful” Bell is also “mentally talented,” which gives him an extra dimension to use against Iowa on Saturday.

“You’ve seen [Bell] hurdle guys, pretty impressive for any back, [if] you think about his size, to have that athleticism,” Ferentz said. “If you break down at all and somebody misses a gap … he can really hurt you.”

But the Hawkeyes are prepared.

Senior defensive lineman Steve Bigach said stopping the Spartan run will be a “matter of pride” for the D-line. The entire Hawkeye defense will have to zero in on Bell to stop him from having a 200-yard game.

“Anytime you have a tough runner, you have to get multiple hats to the football,” Bigach said. “You’ve got to get multiple guys in on gang tackling and get the defense flying to the football. Our game plan isn’t, ‘Hey, have one guy go tackle Le’Veon Bell,’ because he’s a tough runner, and he’s going to break tackles. But we expect that … we’re ready for it.”

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