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#AskB5Q: The Fear of Iowa

Just how good are the Hawkguy Linebackers?


It's good times in Madison. Our coach is donning pads and pancaking the heck out of Beau Allen. Everyone in the city is high-fiving and dancing. We're feeling great. But there's a question coming from a place moderately southwest of us. A question... of fear.

Scott Herbst, you have the floor.

So the joke response here is, "Are we playing Ohio State again?"

Okay. All seriousness, Iowa has a very good tag-team at linebacker in Anthony Hitchens and James Morris. The rush defense is 25th per game and 36th per play. It's solid statistically. But let's go deeper.

Iowa Against The Run 2013
Team Attempts Rushing Touchdowns
Northern Illinois 42 163 0
Southwest Missouri State 23 70 0
Iowa State 24 59 0
Western Michigan 20 74 0
Minnesota 27 30 0
Michigan State 37 135 0
Ohio State 51 273 2
Northwestern 52 225 0

Seems pretty impressive, right? Four dominant performances, two decent ones, one shaky one and no one's going to blame you for getting gashed against the run by Ohio State. But if you look hard enough, you can see holes.

For one? Three of those dominant performances are teams they're supposed to shut down. Iowa State and Western Michigan are both north of 100th place rushing on a per-play basis. Southwest Missouri State is an FCS team. You aught to dominate them, right?

The Iowa fan may point to performances against Northern Illinois and Minnesota. Both are top-25 rush offenses. Heck, Northern Illinois is third on a per-play basis. Rightfully so. But guess what? This is a straw man. Let's knock it down.

For one, Northern Illinois's best opponent by far is Iowa. Everyone else it's played is a combined 11-37 this season. And while Purdue and Akron were able to contain the run a little bit, Northern Illinois rush offense is based on smacking around Central and Eastern Michigan, Idaho, Kent State and Western Illinois. It's a touch of a misnomer.

And Minnesota? The Gophers were without starting fullback Mike Henry, and as a statistical misnomer goes, Minnesota's got the sort of running game that has absolutely feasted against some of the cupcakes it's faced. In fact? In five of their wins, the Gophers have put up 79 percent of their rushing yards and all 19 of their touchdowns. I'm not saying they're a paper tiger, but they haven't beaten a team whose rush defense is above 68 (Northwestern), and their best non-conference rush defense is currently 103rd nationally (San Jose State).

Not going to castigate the Gophers for playing cupcakes because no one is innocent in that respect. I only use this to provide a contrast to Iowa's statistical rush defense vis a vis their linebacking corps. I only use this to finally answer at long last.

No Scott, I don't fear Iowa's linebackers against our running game. They won't go easily. But I believe in Melvin Gordon.