Hawkeyes looking at tough numbers


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The Box Score is a segment in which a Daily Iowan football reporter uses statistics to contextualize Iowa football’s performance over the course of the season.

Attaining 8 wins as a Big Ten team is an accomplishment no matter the context. And Iowa fans may take solace knowing the team’s 4 losses all came against squads that finished in the BCS final top-25 rankings.

But the fact of the matter is, Iowa is nothing more than a solid yet unspectacular football team applauded irrationally by fans still jaded by the 4-win mess that was 2012.

This group’s talent and the coaches’ in-game strategy are significantly better than last year’s squad, but from a statistical standpoint, Iowa just doesn’t size up to the prowess of Les Miles’ Tigers.

Louisiana State quarterback Zach Mettenberger won’t be able to join his teammates in the Outback Bowl because of a season-ending knee injury in the last week of the regular season. Mettenberger’s injury lessens a noticeable talent disparity between the two teams, but without a near-perfect performance from the Hawkeyes, it’s hard to envision a scenario in which Iowa leaves Tampa, Fla., with a victory.

LSU defense vs. Iowa offense — 22.7 points allowed per game, 27.3 points scored per game

LSU’s defense was seemingly destroyed by the 2013 NFL draft, leaving many wondering how the unit would respond this year. The team lost 10 underclassmen to the draft, and eight defensive draftees.

But in typical SEC fashion, Miles’ defense restocked itself with premium talent, and it is yet again one of the nation’s stoutest defensive units.

Comparatively against ranked opponents (four games each), LSU’s defense was significantly more effective than the Hawkeye offense. The Tigers allowed just 28.3 points per game against ranked opponents (18th in NCAA), highlighted by a dominating 34-10 win over Texas A&M on Nov. 23.

In its four games against ranked opponents, Iowa scored just 18.5 points per game (63rd in NCAA).

“They have very fast, athletic guys up front,” Iowa running back Mark Weisman said. “Good linebackers as well. And the defensive backs are playmakers. It’s going to be a big challenge for us, and we know that. We have to prepare for it. We have a great plan and trust [the coaching staff] completely.”

LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings — 6-of-10 passing, 99 yards, 1 touchdown in limited game action

Jennings was the No. 8 dual-threat quarterback of the 2013 class, according to ESPN’s recruiting database. And Mettenberger’s injury will force the freshman into his first career start earlier than the LSU coaching staff might have liked, but Iowa isn’t preparing any differently than it would have prior to the change.

“We have to assume he’s good,” Iowa linebacker Anthony Hitchens said. “He got a scholarship to play at LSU; you have to have some type of talent. I know he’s good. But I think their offense is more run-based, so we just have to be ready.”

Jennings led LSU on a game-winning 99-yard touchdown drive with just a few minutes left against Arkansas in the Tigers’ regular season finale. So the first-year signal caller isn’t completely inexperienced.

Like Hitchens, Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey praised Jennings’ ability and made sure to note LSU’s talent in every area on offense.

“I’m sure the next man in [Jennings] is still going to be a great player,” Kirksey said. “We have to find a way to be sound in the passing game. They have threats outside. Even though their quarterback is nicked up, I’m pretty sure this new guy can produce, too.”

LSU rushing offense vs. Iowa rushing defense — 34 touchdowns scored, 5 touchdowns allowed

Statistically, running the ball and stopping the run are the most efficient facets of these two squads, respectively.

LSU running backs Jeremy Hill and Terrence Magee combined to run the ball for nearly 1,800 yards (more than 7 yards a carry) and 22 touchdowns in 2013.

But Iowa’s rush defense was extremely effective as well, tying Florida State for the fewest rushing touchdown allowed (5) in the country this season.

To halt the LSU offense, Iowa will need to win on first down, subsequently forcing the Tigers into more passing situations on second and third down.

The Hawkeyes have gone up against some very solid rushing attacks this season, but if Hill and Magee have success, they may have a difficult time keeping up with the Tigers.  

“We always want to do that. From the little I know about them at this point, it sounds like they’re a team that wants to run the ball, if they can,” Iowa linebacker James Morris said. “And obviously, that’s a big thing for us, trying to stop the run. That’s square one for us — any down, we’re trying to win — but it’s certainly critical to put them in certain situations, like second and third and long, where they can’t do a whole lot.”

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