Hawkeyes face biggest challenge yet against undefeated Ohio State

BY MATT CABEL | OCTOBER 18, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Iowa Hawkeyes (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) have a difficult task before them: traveling to Columbus for a matchup against an undefeated Ohio State (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten) team ranked fourth in the nation that has won its last 18 games in a row dating back to the 2012 season. Iowa hasn’t played a game in Columbus, Ohio, since 2009 — four years before starting quarterback Jake Rudock even took a snap under center for the Hawkeyes — but the redshirt sophomore has played games in Ohio Stadium.

During his junior year of high school at St. Thomas Aquinas high in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., Rudock and his team traveled to Ohio for a regular-season matchup when Rudock was quarterback. “It was cool being in a Big Ten college stadium,” Rudock said. “Obviously, there weren’t all the fans, but being in the environment, being in the locker room, it was really interesting.”

Similarly, defensive back John Lowdermilk was in Columbus the last time the Hawkeyes played in Ohio Stadium, but he, too, wasn’t a member of the team. He was a fan, watching the game with his family and cheering for the Buckeyes. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said with a laugh that he “better check on [Lowdermilk] this weekend” when the team travels to the stadium again to see that he doesn’t change his allegiances again.

But since Lowdermilk was recruited by and joined the Hawkeyes, the defensive back has changed his tune. “It was a good game, a good environment,” Lowdermilk said. “But the Hawkeyes should have pulled it out.”

While the team understands the Buckeyes’ winning streak and mentions it in the locker room, it’s not intimidating to them. They’re preparing as if they would for any other opponent, despite winning streaks, rankings, or the stadium they’ll play in. “To me, the one streak that’s impressive right now is they’re undefeated,” Ferentz said. “They’re fourth in the country. You don’t fall into that. They’ve got a really good team, and they’re playing really well. That may be as impressive as anything.”

It will be one of the biggest tests of the season for the Hawkeye defense: the Buckeyes have scored 17 touchdowns on the ground, and Iowa’s defense is the only team left in Division I football to not allow teams to score on the ground. “We’re a little saltier up front,” Ferentz said. “… It’s a combination of things. You can’t do it with just the front seven. Our defensive backs are doing a good job of containing when they have to, and then we’ve had guys come up and support and make tackles, too. It’s everybody doing a good job.”

Running back Mark Weisman said the Buckeye defense would be “another tough test” for him and the other members of the offense after facing Michigan State’s stout defense on Oct. 5. The Spartans held Iowa to only 23 yards total on the ground; the Haweyes had averaged more than 200 in its previous five games. “[Michigan State] stopped [the run],” Weisman said. “But that’s one game. We can’t let that game deter us at all. We just have to try to execute in the passing and the running game, have them feed off each other, and see where that takes us.”

Like Weisman, Rudock said the game will be a matter of firing on all cylinders on all sides of the ball for the Hawkeyes. He emphasized that every player, from offense and defense to special teams, will need to find a rhythm to succeed against the Buckeyes. “It’s not so much focusing on what they’ve done in the past — they’ve obviously proven that they can play football; there’s a reason they haven’t lost a game this year,” Rudock said. “It’s more of the competitiveness of playing a Big Ten opponent, playing another opponent that we’ve had some good game in the past [with]. It’s just the opportunity to play a really good team — we all want to do really well.”

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