Iowa set to play Michigan State


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Iowa (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) enters this weekend’s game averaging 244.4 rushing yards per game, good for 20th in the country. The bulk of that has been shouldered by, who else, Mark Weisman, whose 119 carries leads the nation.

Numbers can be fun to play with, of course. Leading up to Saturday’s matchup in Kinnick Stadium, Weisman and the rest of Iowa’s running backs have placed their focus on another important statistic: 58.3.

That’s the number of rushing yards Michigan State’s (3-1, 0-0) defense gives up per game. The Spartans’ front seven is the second-best rushing defense in the country, trailing only Florida by fewer than 5 yards.

“They have a lot of good players on defense,” Weisman said. “They’re a very veteran team. And they’re physical up front.”

Max Bullough, the three-year starting middle linebacker, leads Michigan State’s front seven. His 22 tackles sits third on the team behind linebacker Denicos Allen and free safety Kurtis Drummond, who each have tallied 24.

Moreover, Michigan State’s rushing defense is as stingy as the numbers suggest. The Spartan’s front seven have accounted for 102 of the team’s 234 tackles, and 16.5 of those 102 have gone for a loss (Michigan State’s defense, as a unit, has 24 tackles for a loss; Iowa has 22).

The stats indicate that Iowa’s running game β€” a staple in any successful Kirk Ferentz-coached football team β€” may be in for a large challenge. It will be a battle of a team that relies heavily on the run against a team that stops it at all costs; the unstoppable force versus the immovable object, of sorts.

“[The] comparison I made on the teleconference, we used to play the Steelers in my six years [coaching in the NFL], and they have a handful of things they do on first and second down, so never looked like all that much but it was enough there,” Ferentz said on Tuesday. “They certainly knew what they were doing. It was enough to cause problems with your running game and enough to cause protection problems.”

Ferentz also said the offensive line needs to continue progressing if the team is to be productive against the Spartans. The unit as a whole is as healthy and has shown in each of the first five games that it can create holes and present Weisman and Company with a myriad of opportunities to gain positive yards.

“You look at the film Sunday, and there are an awful lot of things we need to do better, and we’re going to have to do better this week,” Ferentz said. “Or we won’t have anywhere near the production we need.”

Michigan State’s focus will likely come in the form of stopping Iowa’s runNING game to the left. Against Minnesota, 22 of Iowa’s 39 carries went to the left, amassing 129 yards β€” good for anaverage of 5.86 yards per carry.

The other 17 rushes, divided between the central and right side of the offensive line, gained 76 yards, a mere 4.47 yards per rush.

It’s no secret why Iowa ran to the left so many times β€”its best offensive lineman, Brandon Scherff, is there at tackle. He said on Tuesday the plays that come to the left aren’t up to him, but he knows to be prepared each time his number is called.

“Last year, it went down to the wire,” Scherff said about the Iowa-Michigan State game; it resulted in an overtime win for the Hawkeyes in East Lansing on Oct. 13. “This year, they’re going to give us their best shot, and we’re going to give them ours.”

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