Hlas column: Hawkeyes' defense needs to rebound, because offense just isn't there

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April 1, 2014 | 2:18 am

The three undefeated teams in 2012 Big Ten football are the three that have won the highest percentage of their Big Ten games, all-time.

Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State.

Don't play the "vacated wins" card in Penn State's case. Those teams won those games.

At home against Michigan State Saturday, Michigan was down 10-9 with 2:00 left and the ball at its own 38. It won on Brendan Gibbons' 38-yard field goal with :05 left. It was Michigan's most-famous 12-10 game since it lost by that score at Iowa in 1985.

At home against Purdue Saturday and with starting quarterback Braxton Miller knocked out of the game with an injury, OSU had the ball on its own 39 with 47 seconds left, trailing 22-14. So the Buckeyes went on a hurry-up, 61-yard touchdown drive withe backup QB Kenny Guiton, completed a 2-point conversion pass for a 22-22 score, and scored in overtime while Purdue did not.

Penn State, on the other hand, played on the road and needed no such fourth-quarter dramatics. It jumped on Iowa early Saturday night and didn't let up until the game was out of reach for the Hawkeyes. The game was not as close as the 38-14 score indicates.

While Iowa had reason to feel good about itself after its 19-16 double-overtime win at Michigan State the week before, Penn State wasn't Michigan State. Penn State has better quarterbacking, better receivers, a better offensive line, and better offensive scheme and execution.

Give Penn State's offense to Michigan State, and the MSU-Iowa game is a one-sided Spartans rout. Give Penn State's offense to Iowa, and the Hawkeyes are probably unbeaten right now.

It's a tired drum to keep pounding, but it's the story of Iowa's season. Its offense has produced one touchdown or less in four of its seven games. It has scored a total of three first-half points over its last two games.

It is 101st in the nation in scoring, 105th in total offense, 115th in passing efficiency. Yet, this is a team that was really close to being 6-0 entering the Penn State game. Of course, it was also really close to being 3-3 on its way to 3-4.

But the Hawkeyes had already proved they can always compete and often find ways to win when their defense is right. Saturday night, that unit was a shambles.

The 504 yards Penn State accumulated with its self-described NASCAR offense (maybe Iowa and others should invent a Hypersonic Missile offense) might have put you in mind of those Red Bull-fueled attacks you see in the Big 12 as you scorn the league for not playing any defense.

"We should have put up a lot more points," said Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin, and he was right.

McGloin, who was merely terrific in the game, was Chatty Matty afterward. He said "We're in a lot better shape than other teams, and it's hard for them to keep up with us."

A fast-paced offense that keeps picking up first-downs will wear out the best of defenses. No defense on earth wants to be on the field for 90 plays, and that's the number the Lions had Saturday. However, the Hawkeyes wouldn't have worn down had they tackled and defended better.

The up-down-up-down season for Iowa continues this week at Northwestern. The Wildcats allowed 543 yards to Nebraska Saturday and gained just 301. But the Cornhuskers needed a touchdown with 2:08 left to escape Evanston with a 29-28 win after trailing 28-16 midway through the fourth quarter. Nebraska had a nasty habit of fumbling punts in the game.

There were more fans of Nebraska than Northwestern at the game.

“There was a lot of [Nebraska] fans,’’ Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter said. “We had to go silent [snap count] at the end of the game in our own stadium. That’s a first. … We didn’t prepare for that all week.’’

Maybe that's the ticket for Iowa. Bring 20,000 screaming fans to Ryan Field Saturday. But that's kind of a tough sell right now for those fans who weren't already committed to going.

 

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