Schwartz: Hawkeyes Enter Final Stretch

October 31, 2019

Written by David Schwartz

Hawkeye Nation

The Hawkeyes are 6-2, bowl eligible with a bye week. Now comes the home stretch – the final third of the season. Let’s consider what’s at stake and what needs to happen in their final four games.

The Path to Indy

The common narrative has been that Iowa has regained control over its own destiny because of Wisconsin’s consecutive losses to Illinois and Ohio State. That’s not entirely true.

Minnesota suffers from a lack of respect brought on by something that is almost entirely out of their control: an easy schedule backloaded with its toughest games. While it’s true that their 8-0 mark has been built on the back of teams like Maryland, Rutgers, Purdue, and Georgia Southern, they’re still 8-0 and own a two-game lead in the Big Ten West.

They have a huge lead in the race to represent the West in the Big Ten Championship Game in Indianapolis, and it’s going to take no small effort for either the Hawkeyes or Wisconsin to catch the Gophers.

Iowa’s path calls on them to win out and hope that Minnesota falls this weekend to their first top-tier opponent of the season, Penn State. That would leave the Hawkeyes and Gophers tied at 7-2 in the division, with Iowa earning the tiebreaker into the title game because of the head-to-head win.

Wisconsin’s path to Indianapolis is nearly identical to Iowa’s: The Badgers need to win out and hope Minnesota loses at home to Penn State (or Iowa).

All Minnesota has to do is go 3-1 to lock up the West. Their last four, starting Saturday, are Penn State, Iowa, Northwestern, and Wisconsin. The Gophers could also go 2-2 and qualify if the two wins come against the Hawkeyes and Badgers.

Helping the Defense

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Iowa sports an elite defense, ranking third in the nation in points allowed at just more than 10 per game. Could the linebackers use a little more seasoning? Sure. If we’re nitpicking.

Overall, the linebackers have started to grow into their positions, the defensive line has dominated, and the defensive backs have played better than we thought they would.

Barring injury, the defense is no concern.

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Iowa’s success – or lack thereof – depends upon the offense taking a leap forward when playing against good teams.

Against their less successful opponents (Miami of Ohio, Middle Tennessee, Rutgers, Purdue, and Northwestern), the Hawkeyes average 32.4 points per game. Against their more successful opponents (Iowa State, Michigan, and Penn State), the Hawkeyes score just 11 points a game.

Minnesota (8-0) and Wisconsin (6-2) lurk on Iowa’s remaining schedule, which means they need to figure out quickly how to get the offense moving if they want a chance at winning the West.

Iowa’s defense can keep the game close, but it’s not going to matter how destructive the defense is if the offense doesn’t show up when the stakes are highest.

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Keeping an Eye on Brian Ferentz

It’s been fun to watch Brian Ferentz’s progress as an offensive coordinator, but if the cliché two steps forward, one step back holds even a shred of truth, 2019 has been a step-back year.

Earlier this season the Hawkeyes perplexed the college football world with its lack of time management, such as the end of the first half against Rutgers. Then last Saturday at Northwestern, Ferentz lost his temper on the sideline and earned his team a 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalty, which brought back memories of an outburst from two seasons ago.

Ideally, an offensive coordinator makes news for his success, or he doesn’t make news at all. Ferentz can’t seem to stay out of the spotlight this year for all of the wrong reasons. One wonders how the rest of the coaching staff can stay completely focused on the task at hand when one of their peers struggles to keep his head in the game.

* Talk with David Schwartz on Twitter @daveschwartz.

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