Best Strategy To Attack Iowa’s Defense? Mismatches And RBs


Iowa football is about as Big Ten as it gets. They’ve had a coach who likes to play three yards and a cloud of dust football, has been around for ages, and most importantly, they play trench football. Their offensive line is big and just as importantly, their defensive line is equally cumbersome. In fact, that defensive front is probably their biggest strength  as a team.

For the most part, Iowa mostly runs a 4-3 defense, which is something I’ll not need to go over here. With Louis Trinca-Pasat, Nate Meier, Carl Davis, and Drew Ott, Iowa has trench play covered. The four have racked up some really impressive stats this season; combined they’ve got 9.5 sacks and 20 tackles for loss. Drew Ott, the Hawkeyes 6’4″, 270 lb defensive end is the anchor of that line, and is country strong. He’s sixth on the team in tackles this year and has been punishing opposing QBs.

Naturally, Iowa is going to want to do what everyone else has tried to accomplish against Maryland: stop C.J. Brown from running all over them and pressure him early into bad decisions. It’s a tried and true method to beat the Terps, and Iowa has the personnel to at least accomplish the latter. Running up the middle on Iowa simply isn’t an option unless the Terps want to play directly into their advantage, so we’ve got to think outside the box.

While the Hawkeyes do have a solid front, the price they pay for being slower is in the secondary, which doesn’t have anywhere near the requisite speed to keep up with the Terps offense. On paper, they’re 8th nationally in passing yards surrendered per game at 164/game, but that may be the most skewed statistic this team offers. For one, they haven’t faced many quarterbacks that can be accurately labeled as deadly, and secondly during the Indiana game Nate Sudfeld was injured for most of it (which pushed the number down further when the Hoosiers threw for under 120 yards).

The Terrapins have weapons on the offensive side of the ball that Iowa simply can’t defend in the passing game through the middle. Northern Iowa had tremendous success against the Hawkeyes in the passing game because their QB exploited the middle of the field with his running back, David Johnson. Johnson had over 200 yards receiving during that game, and large chunks of it came when he beat Iowa’s weak point in coverage: Quinton Alston. While Alston is the team’s leading tackler and is still adept at wrapping people up, he’s also very bad in coverage and has lead feet when matched up with a running back.

Enter Brandon Ross.

Now normally Ross, who averages 20 yards per catch and has reigned in 10 this season, finds himself open strictly on screen passes. He’s fantastic at turning one yard into a whole lot more, and he’s certainly one of Brown’s favorite targets in the screen game. Iowa is going to pressure Maryland, the offensive line almost guarantees that. But they commit a lot to the run with a 4-3 under and 5-2 monster look, and Brandon Ross streaking free for a quick strike through the middle of the field will leave him with Quinton Alston and some slow safeties to beat. That Maryland can do.

It also helps that Iowa’s secondary is going to still need to commit a few extra guys to covering Stefon Diggs and Deon Long, two speedsters who should open the field up a bunch. The Terps have had success finding Marcus Leak wide open so many times because those two have consistently beaten coverage and left the middle of the field wide open for Leak to streak (yes!). They’ve also had Ross open in the middle on shovel screens that have gone for large chunks of yardage because he is matched up with a MIKE.

Ultimately it comes down to execution against Iowa. The plays will be there through the middle all day long, but if Brown can’t hit open receivers this time around the Terps will see how much that hurts. The Hawkeyes control the clock better than most teams in the country, and Maryland’s offense won’t have opportunity after opportunity against them. The deep balls have to connect, and the slants have to hit receivers in stride to turn the ball upfield. The running game isn’t going to be great against Iowa, but Maryland sticking with it will keep the defense honest. The game can be won playing the pretty, big-play ball Maryland loves if they execute, and force a slow Big Ten defense to run.