Rossow’s Rants: A Shootout is Coming

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Which of the Hawkeyes final four games have the best chances of being high-scoring contests?

EVANSTON, ILLINOIS – OCTOBER 26: Mekhi Sargent #10 of the Iowa Hawkeyes is tripped up by Bryce Jackson #22 and JR Pace #13 of the Northwestern Wildcats during the first quarter at Ryan Field on October 26, 2019 in Evanston, Illinois. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

Kirk Ferentz keeps dropping hints.

It’s not that the longest-tenured coach in college football doesn’t believe in his defense. He just knows there’s always at least one game each year.

A Shootout is Coming.  

“Down the road, there’s going to be one of those 38-33 games or whatever. That’s how football works. Whatever it takes to win the game that day, that’s really what’s important,” said Ferentz after the win at Northwestern.

It might be hard to fathom with the historic pace of this Iowa defense and the staleness of the Iowa offense. The total combined points in the Hawkeyes’ last four contests are 13, 29, 46 and 20.

In other words, no game has approached defense-is-optional, Big 12 territory.

But Ferentz knows better. That’s why he keeps telling us to be prepared.  

“We’re going to be in a game, chances are sometime this season, where nobody can stop anybody,” said Ferentz before the Purdue game. “You always have one or two of those during the year. It’s on the offense at that point to get the job done.”

The Hawkeyes have played in a Big Ten game with a point total of 74 or more in five straight years, including two last season. They’ve had 10 games at or above 69 points or more in the same span.

It’s just a matter of time before it happens.

With just four games left, which game has the best chance to be the high-scoring affair? LET’S DIG IN.  

Jonathan Taylor
Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor scores on a 37-yard tun against South Florida during the first half of an NCAA college football game Friday, Aug. 30, 2019, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

No Shootout Potential

Wisconsin (November 9)

The point total has surpassed 60 only twice against the Badgers in 18 games in Ferentz’s tenure.

Iowa has scored just four offensive touchdowns in its last four trips to Madison.

Moving on.

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Nate Stanley of the Iowa Hawkeyes passes the ball to teammate Noah Fant against Carter Coughlin of the Minnesota Golden Gophers during the second quarter of the game on October 6, 2018 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

Minor Shootout Potential

Minnesota (November 16)

The Gophers and Hawkeyes matchup produced shootouts last year in Minneapolis and in 2015 at Kinnick. The battle for Floyd also churned out back-to-back snoozers in between.  

Iowa is going to have some matchup problems, like most of the teams Minnesota has faced this season.

The formula for high-scoring games usually includes multiple 20-plus yard scoring plays. Phil Parker makes it a priority to limit those each week, but sometimes his plan gets spoiled.

In recent years, we’ve seen future pros like Tevin Coleman and Stefon Diggs making the big plays. The Gophers have a future pro in Tyler Johnson and some other good, young receivers.

On the other side of the ball, Minnesota’s defense is more comparable to Northwestern or Iowa State’s defense than an elite one like Michigan, Penn State or Wisconsin. Iowa should score at least 20 points, but getting close to last year’s total of 48 is probably wishful thinking.

This game is the biggest wildcard on the remaining schedule, but I think both defenses are good enough to keep the final point total well below 69.   

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Lovie Smith of the Illinois Fighting Illini looks up at the scoreboard during the game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Memorial Stadium on November 17, 2018 in Champaign, Illinois. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

Major Shootout Potential

Illinois (November 23)

Iowa’s averaged more than 45 points per game in three games against Lovie Smith’s teams, but the Illini haven’t held up their end of the deal. They’ve been shut out twice in three years, including last year’s 63-0 beatdown in Champaign.

A hallmark of the Hawkeyes high-scoring games recently has been turnovers. There’s been an average of more than three per game. Four of the 10 games have featured four turnovers or more.

Touchdowns on defense or special teams have also been prevalent in the shootouts since 2014. There’s been seven in the games that finished with a point total of 69 or higher.

Enter an Illini defense that’s already scored three touchdowns and thrived on takeaways this season.

The unit’s ability to force turnovers has been one of the biggest reasons for improvement, ranking first in the Big Ten and second nationally with 19 in eight games.

Without the takeaways, the defense is pedestrian. Iowa should be able to score. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if this game becomes a track meet at Kinnick.   

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Quarterback Adrian Martinez of the Nebraska Cornhuskers scrambles in the second half in front of defensive end A.J. Epenesa of the Iowa Hawkeyes, on November 23, 2018 at Kinnick Stadium, in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)

Nebraska (November 29)

This game is a prospective shootout because of the Cornhuskers imbalance.

Scott Frost’s offense is one of the best in the Big Ten when Adrian Martinez is healthy. We saw that in last year’s season finale at Kinnick.

The Huskers defense, on the other hand, still can’t stop a nose bleed.

Sure, the unit has made baby steps this season, but it’s still below average. Nebraska’s currently ranked inside the top 80 in both scoring and total defense after being outside the top 100 in both categories the past two years.

It’s that type of porous defense that’s been the catalyst in the past for a shootout with Iowa.

Seven of the 10 games that have totaled 69 points or more have been against an opponent ranked outside the top 55 defensively in scoring defense. The average slot of the opponents scoring defense was No. 71 nationally.

The Huskers ranking right now is 77th. Sounds like a recipe for some points in Lincoln.

A Shootout is Coming.  

Nate Stanley leads the celebration with teammates after Iowa won the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Trophy 18-17 over Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium on September 14, 2019 in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)

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