Tall task ahead for Hawkeyes vs. OSU
By LUKE MEREDITH
AP Sports Writer
IOWA CITY — Third-ranked Ohio State put itself back in position for a possible playoff berth with a wild comeback win over No. 7 Penn State last week.
The Buckeyes (7-1, 5-0 Big Ten, No. 6 CFP) only need to look what happened to their biggest rival to realize the danger that could lie ahead for them this weekend in Iowa City.
Michigan’s playoff hopes took a major hit in 2016 when Iowa stunned Big Blue 14-13 a year ago as a 24-point underdog. Ohio State will face the Hawkeyes (5-3, 2-3) as an 18-point favorite but the Hawkeyes are no pushover. They lost to the Nittany Lions on the final play of the game, to Michigan State on the road by seven and at Northwestern in overtime.
Iowa has also won three of its last four games against top-five teams at home in the last 10 years.
“That’s exactly who they are,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “They’re just tough.”
Still, Ohio State is averaging 35 points per game more than their opponents in league games, while Iowa is scoring just 20.2 points in Big Ten matchups.
Here are some of the keys to consider as Ohio State makes its first trip to Iowa since 2010:
HEISMAN HYPE FOR BARRETT?
Meyer said after the Penn State game that quarterback J.T. Barrett had entered the Heisman Trophy conversation with his stellar performance in the come-from-behind win. Yet the university won’t promote Barrett as a Heisman candidate, Meyer said, noting that the program already gets enough national attention. Barrett wouldn’t want to talk about it anyway.
“If I ever went up to J.T. and said, ‘What do you think about the Heisman? Let’s have a conversation,’ he’d look at me like I had seven heads,” Meyer said. “(He would) say, ‘Who are you to talk to me about something like that? Let’s go find a way to win this next game.'”
Perhaps the biggest surprise for Iowa this season has been junior cornerback Josh Jackson, a first-year starter who is leading the nation in passes broken up and defended. Jackson and Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell are among the 18 semifinalists for the Bednarik Award given to the nation’s top defensive player.
“I think he knows his position a little bit better; the expectations of what we’re looking for and he’s done a great job,” Ferentz said.
NOT-SO SPECIAL TEAMS
Meyer said he met with assistants to try to solve some lingering problems with Ohio State’s special teams, which he described this week as “a joke.”
Veteran Sean Nuernberger and freshman Blake Haubeil have been inconsistent booting kickoffs long enough or with the intended placement. Last week against Penn State, Nuernberger opened the game by kicking to Saquon Barkley on the 3-yard line and the Heisman Trophy candidate returned it for a touchdown.
“We’re the only school in the America that can’t kick it out of the end zone, even with the wind at our back,” Meyer said.
THEY SAID IT
—“The thing I love about their coach, who is a friend, is that consistency is impeccable. It’s like so many people change and (are) always grasping for different ways of doing things. He’s as consistent, tough as you can get.” — Meyer on Ferentz.
—“I couldn’t sleep Saturday night. I was so excited. And it was even better to see the helmets…I was trying to concentrate on what we were doing but I just kept looking at those helmets. Those are awesome.” — Ferentz, tongue planted firmly in cheek, on the new alternate uniforms the Hawkeyes will wear on Saturday.