The offensively challenged Hawkeyes are coming to Columbus to play Ohio State on Saturday, and the coaching staff is reminding the players about that awful day five years ago, and to be on guard.
Columbus, OH – A stunning defeat on the football field can stick with a person like an automobile accident with the flashing red lights of police cruisers and debris all over the place. The years pass, there have been plenty of safe highway miles and the insurance rates have gone down, but that big kaboom never goes away.
For Ohio State head coach Ryan Day and assistants Kevin Wilson, Larry Johnson, Tony Alford, Brian Hartline and Corey Dennis, that head-on collision came against Iowa way back in 2017.
These men will never, ever forget a 55-24 licking they received at Kinnick Stadium. Hawkeyes defensive back Amani Hooker had a 30-yard pick six off JT Barrett on the Buckeyes first play from scrimmage, and the rout was on.
“That’s a scar that doesn’t go away. I’ve felt it this week, for sure,’’ Day said.
Ohio State (6-0) and Iowa (3-3) will meet at noon Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Fox will broadcast.
In 2017, Day was a first-year co-offensive coordinator with Wilson under Urban Meyer, and they had to be feeling pretty good coming off a 39-38 come-from-behind victory against Penn State the week before.
The Buckeyes were ranked No. 3 and had righted themselves quite nicely from a 31-16 loss to Oklahoma and Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield in Game 2.
Then disaster struck – again and again – against an Iowa team that was average at best with a 5-3 record. There would be three more interceptions and nine penalties. All-American defensive end Nick Bosa was ejected for targeting in the first half.
“That was a tough day for all of us,’’ Day said. Any time you have a scar like that, it’s real. We’ve talked about it a lot to our staff, we’ve talked about it a lot to our players, we’ve talked about it a lot as an offensive staff, and we’ll continue to talk about it. This team is always difficult to beat, and it doesn’t matter what year it is. This year is no different.’’
The loss knocked Ohio State out of the College Football Playoff. It did win the Big Ten championship against Wisconsin and the Cotton Bowl over USC, but those were parting gifts in a season where opportunity was lost.
This week, the Buckeyes are ranked second nationally. Iowa has ho-hum wins over South Dakota State, Nevada and Rutgers and is coming off losses to Michigan and Illinois.
Odds-makers have Ohio State a 28-point favorite.
Wilson reminded the media that the second half of the Big Ten season in no way will be as easy as the first.
“You are in the back half of the Big Ten, so it’s not easy,’’ he said. “You can look at it and say it’s easy and say it is with it is with numbers and what it should be. But you play this time of year with elements. You play this time of year when it truly shows if you are tough and you are physical and you are disciplined. You play with respect and preparation.’’
It’s difficult to have much respect for a Hawkeyes offense that ranks 127th nationally in scoring at 14.7 points and 124th in third down conversion at, yikes, 29.6 percent.
But their defense is third nationally in allowing 9.6 points per game. It is allowing 110.6 yards rushing and has given up two rushing touchdowns. The pass defense allows 154.0 yards.
This is the same stuff Wilson has been seeing from 13th-year Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker since, well, forever. Parker was the team’s defensive backs coach for 11 years before being promoted.
“I first crossed these guys in 1999,’’ Wilson said of Iowa. It was Kirk’s (head coach Ferentz) first year and I was with Northwestern. It’s the same defense, the same structure, the same (coaches).’’
Parker and Wilson have been waging wits since they were young, underpaid assistants trying to make their mark at the mid-major level in the Mid-American Conference.
“Me and Phil Parker go back to 1990 when he was at Toledo and I was at Miami of Ohio,’’ Wilson said. “We used to recruit central Ohio together. We used to go in the same car together, me and him and Doug Klein from Kent State. We figured if three of us showed up that they would talk to someone from the MAC. We played a lot of golf together. He’s an awesome coach. He knows his defense. His players know his defense.’’
KNOWLES: DEFENSE AN ATTITUDE
The Buckeyes defense under first-year coordinator Jim Knowles has risen to No. 5 nationally in allowing 253.5 yards per game.
From the start, it has shown no resemblance to the bumbling, stumbling unit of 2021 that went a long way in keeping the team from winning a fifth straight Big Ten championship.
How serious was athletic director Gene Smith about returning the defense to its “Silver Bullet’’ days?
When Day hired Knowles away from Oklahoma State to become coordinator, the price tag was $1.9 million. That is SEC type money for an assistant.
“The goal was to look for the best fit here,’’ Day said.
He also said another goal was “to keep him here as long as we can.’’
Knowles has some exotic packages. There are not two, but three safeties and a “Jack’’ or player who can put his hand on the ground as a lineman and drop into coverage or blitz.
But defense, quite bluntly, is getting in your opponent’s face. It’s about taking him to the ground and making it hurt. It’s about frustrating and confusing people down after down. It’s about making the punter’s leg tired.
Knowles said nothing will change against a methodical Iowa offense that attempts to play keep-away to shorten the game.
“Defense is an attitude. It’s a mentality,’’ he said. “You have to go out there and stop them, right? Defense is a right-now proposition. It doesn’t matter what the score is. I guess in a way it makes it a little more challenging in that our offense is so good and we maintain that level and attitude no matter what the score is. I don’t believe that you can just dial it up and say, ‘Hey, it’s a tight game and let’s call those defenses that work.’ It’s an over and over again mentality. It doesn’t affect how I operate one bit.’’
Later, Knowles said, “It’s just habits. It’s just habits, man. It’s training. It’s what everything Coach Mick (Marotti) does in the weight room. It’s our culture and what Coach Day preaches about fighting. It’s just like fighting every day to continue to improve no matter what the score and no matter what the circumstance.’’
THIS AND THAT
Day refused to give injury updates. The big questions are with tailbacks TreVeyon Henderson and Miyan Williams, receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, defensive tackle Mike Hall and cornerback Jordan Hancock. . . Iowa hasn’t been this large an underdog since the Nebraska game in 2000. . . Hawkeyes tight end Luke Lachey is the son of former Buckeyes All-American offensive tackle and current radio analyst Jim Lachey. He graduated from Grandview High School, which is walking distance from the Ohio State campus. Lachey has started three games.