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November 18, 2013

First Look: Iowa strong defensively but weak on offense

Iowa is generally credited with playing a hard-nosed, physical brand of football. That style has been good enough to win six games and put a scare into Michigan State and Ohio State, but the Hawkeyes have not beat the best teams on the schedule, and are out of the Legends Division race at 3-3 (6-4 overall).

Saturday, they will have a chance to win two in a row for the first time since late September, when they welcome Michigan to Iowa City on the heels of a 38-14 win over Purdue Nov. 9 (Iowa enjoyed a bye this past weekend).

That victory made the Hawkeyes bowl eligible, which was celebrated by the program after UI went 4-8 in 2012, missing out on the postseason for the first time since 2007 and for only the second time since 2001.

"It's significant, and not anything we take for granted," said coach Kirk Ferentz, 106-78 in 15 seasons. "Last year was a long winter break. This team has had a great attitude; I can't say enough about all the seniors.

"It's good for morale to get that sixth win; it's always nice to go into a change in the schedule on a positive note. That's not our end game, but that's certainly one nice by-product of winning. That's not something we take for granted. It's great to get that accomplished."

Like most teams in the Big Ten, Iowa is far from perfect. The Hawkeyes boast one of the league's best defenses, ranking third in scoring (18.7 points allowed per game) and total yards (319.2 allowed per game), but the offense sits 11th in scoring (26.6 ppg.) and seventh in yards (398.4 ypg.).

Iowa has struggled in both facets offensively, failing to provide junior tailback Mark Weisman much running room - he's averaging 77.7 yards per game and only 4.7 yards per carry - while sophomore first-time starting QB Jake Rudock ranks 69th nationally with a pass efficiency rating of 127.65.

The good news is that once again Iowa's front seven is formidable, featuring a D-Line that averages 286.3 pounds per man, and an experienced linebacker corps with three seniors - Christian Kirksey, James Morris and Anthony Hitchens - that average 24.8 tackles per game and have been responsible or 20.5 tackles for loss this year.

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