Rapp Around: Not As Fluky As You Think

By Jeff Rapp, November 5th, 2017

Well, all those debates about where Ohio State should sit in the College Football Playoff rankings were fun while they lasted, which was about four days. It’s probably a good idea to stop the presses on the “J.T. for Heisman” campaign, too.

It wasn’t the sixth-ranked Buckeyes on Saturday who posted 55 points, produced an exceptionally balanced offense, mangled the opposing defense with a 100-yard rushing performance, came up with a bunch of takeaways or showed off the poise of its quarterback on key drives and in the red zone.

It was Iowa. Plucky Iowa.

The Hawkeyes (6-3, 3-3 in the Big Ten) flipped the script on the very first play of the game as a defensive back named Hooker – Amani Hooker, that is – picked off a J.T. Barrett pass in the flat and raced 30 yards for a touchdown to the delight of a swollen Kinnick Stadium.

Barrett had completed his final 16 passes in the 39-38 win over Penn State the week prior and had not thrown an interception since Ohio State (7-2, 5-1) lost at home to Oklahoma on Sept. 9. It was an eerie omen that set the table for the Hawkeyes, who made it clear as the second half unfolded there would be no epic comeback by the Scarlet and Gray this time.

The program known to OSU fans for its farm-fed linemen, pink visiting locker room and Big Ten mediocrity rose up – way up. Kirk Ferentz, the most-tenured coach in FBS with 19 years at Iowa, may now be known as something other “25-time Big Ten Coach of the Year Kirk Ferentz,” as OSU fans often refer to him to mock the respect he receives.

This time the joke was on Buckeye Nation – only Urban Meyer isn’t laughing.

Meyer appeared to be apoplectic throughout the 55-24 defeat and crestfallen afterward. When asked what he told his players in the locker room following the 31-point loss, he snapped, “That’s between the team and I … that’s between us.”

But he did admit coming to Iowa City a bit worried about how his team would follow up the Penn State performance.

“Sure I was concerned,” Meyer said. “I didn’t see it and I tried to watch very closely like I normally do. I didn’t see any signs. If I do, I address them.”

To say that Ohio State simply let down, though, is a discredit to Iowa. The Hawkeyes came in with three league losses, scoring fewer than 20 points in each. Their Big Ten rankings entering Saturday in categories such as points scored, passing yards and total defense were all middling and they were one of the worst teams in the country in terms of red-zone efficiency.

However, Iowa has an identity and does well to stay within its game plan, especially when facing top-tier teams. And dare I type it – the Hawkeyes are just as good if not better in the back seven than Ohio State.

Sure, the Buckeyes have more natural ability and speed at linebacker and in the secondary. And they have an outstanding cover corner in Denzel Ward. Jerome Baker is a talent. Jordan Fuller is developing into a good safety who can hit and make plays.

But they don’t have a Josey Jewell in the middle who tackles everything that moves and leads the defense. They had that in recent years in the form of Raekwon McMillan, who’s now property of the Miami Dolphins.

The Buckeyes simply don’t have the same discipline and cohesion that Iowa does in the back seven, which is why I have questioned all season whether this is a team capable of contending for a national championship. Granted, it’s easy to be leery of pass coverage these days. Maybe we should be praising a young secondary for not getting torched for 600 yards by Baker Mayfield as Oklahoma State was victimized on Saturday (OK, technically 598).

But Iowa put on a clinic on how to trust your teammate on defense and stay in your gap. It was the Buckeyes who looked like they were scrambling all afternoon.

Throughout the week, Meyer praised the program – heck, the entire state of Iowa, really – for its toughness. But no doubt he didn’t expect it to show through the way it did. Early on, the Buckeyes looked intent to match their hosts hard hit for hard hit, only even that turned into a problem.

Chris Worley was flagged 15 yards for wiping out a receiver over the middle of the field. Also, Nick Bosa, perhaps in frustration, decided to head-butt Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley – a poor decision that wiped out a third-down incompletion and got Bosa the boot for targeting. Moments later, Stanley threw a 25-yard scoring pass that broke a 17-all tie and gave Iowa the lead for good.

Speaking of Stanley, he ended up 20 of 31 passing for 226 yards and five touchdowns. He stayed on script with several accurate throws to backs and tight ends and even threw a laser for a TD with OSU defensive end Sam Hubbard yanking on his foot.

Iowa’s young and inexperience offensive line was supposed to crumble against Ohio State’s fabulous front wall, but it sure didn’t play out that way. In fact, the Buckeyes sacked Stanley just once.

Meanwhile, Iowa running back Akrum Wadley had 19 carries for 115 yards and caught three passes for 40 yards. The Hawkeyes rolled up 497 yards total offense – 243 rushing and 244 passing.

On the flip side, Barrett finished 18 of 34 passing for 208 yards and three touchdowns with four interceptions.

“They just played very well against us,” Meyer said of Iowa’s defensive effort. “They really didn’t do too much differently than they have in the past. From upstairs, they said they were baiting (Barrett). They were playing between two receivers. That’s their coverage and we just didn’t play well.”

After Hooker opened the game with his theft, Iowa corner Joshua Jackson then had the first of his three picks when he victimized Barrett late in the half. That set up Stanley’s 3-yard touchdown toss to tight end Rashad Fant that put the Hawkeyes up 31-17 at the half.

Thoughts of an OSU charge drifted away when the Hawkeyes came up with several big plays in the second half and stretched the lead all the way to 45-17 early in the fourth quarter.

“Obviously, this is a terrible feeling,” said senior center Billy Price. “Coming off an emotional win last week, walking into a hostile environment here. It’s got the Kinnick Curse or whatever you want to call it. We just didn’t come prepared today.”

Meyer and co-captains Price and Tyquan Lewis were the only OSU representatives made available for postgame interviews.

What the Buckeyes likely weren’t ready to admit was that the comeback win over Penn State, drawing thousands of fans onto the field in wild celebration, masked deficiencies that were still going to surface at some point.

This team still has receivers that struggle to create separation in the middle of the field, they still commit too many penalties, their special teams continue to be problematic and there isn’t enough reliability in the back half of the defense.

The first poll that was released Sunday, which comes via the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation, pegs Ohio State at No. 11 in the latest poll. That actually seems kind after one of the worst defeats in modern program history.

Notes
* Price made his 50th consecutive start on Saturday, which matches the program record set by defensive tackle Luke Fickell between 1993-96.

* Fuller led OSU with 10 tackles.

* Meyer slipped to 26-2 in road games as OSU coach, and 19-2 overall in the month of November. In his six seasons at Ohio State, he is 44-3 in regular-season Big Ten games. Kinnick Stadium remains the only Big Ten venue in which Meyer has never won.

* Saturday was just the fourth meeting between Ohio State and Iowa since 2009 and the first in Iowa City since 2010. Ohio State still leads the all-time series 47-15-3 and is 18-7-2 in Iowa City.

The teams had not met since 2013 – a 34-24 OSU win in Columbus – meaning no players on either team had played in this series until Saturday.

Next Up
Ohio State returns home to host Michigan State next Saturday (noon Eastern, FOX). The Spartans (7-2, 5-1) are coming off a 27-24 upset of No. 7 Penn State on Saturday and, like the Buckeyes, control their own fate in the Big Ten East.