by Dallas Jackson - 12/12/2005
Iowa: 7-4 (5-3) 3rd Big Ten
Florida: 8-3 (5-3) 2nd SEC-East
Monday January 2, 2006 1:00pm
When Iowa has the ball:
When you think of Iowa football, you don't usually think of air-it-out passing, nor do you think they will burn their opponents with a ground game offense. What you think of most in regards to Iowa is a hard-hitting defense. However, this year's Iowa squad managed to put up 30.5 ppg this season. How? I don't exactly know. In fact, I rechecked my math to make sure I had that right. What I do know, is that as Drew Tate goes, so do the Hawkeyes.
Tate, the junior QB from Baytown, TX, leads the Iowa offense with smart, precise passing, with an emphasis on protecting the football. He ended the season with just fewer than 2,500 yards with 19 touchdowns versus six interceptions. His numbers were unexpectedly lower than last year, although the Hawkeyes returned his three favorite targets: Clinton Solomon, Ed Hinkel and Scott Chandler. Iowa also had a better offensive live to work with.
The main reason for the drop in passing is the resounding emergence of an Iowa running game. Sophomore RB Albert Young tallied 1,300 yards, 10 touchdowns and a stout 5.5 ypc average. Young's output was 1,173 yards better than Iowa's leading rusher had last season. Yes, 1,173 yards more, Sam Brownlee led Iowa with 227 yards last season. The return of seven starters, including all of the skill positions, plus a better O-Line make Iowa a formidable opponent for any team.
Florida is a typical SEC team on defense. The Gator's will rely on being faster and better "natural athletes" than you, and for the most part it has worked all season. Florida averaged only 18.4 ppg allowed on defense, and they kept teams below 100 yards rushing (97.7) and 200 yards passing (192.1) while playing in one of the most competitive conferences in college football. The defense is led by two All-SEC team members.
Junior shutdown cornerback Dee Webb was named an SEC first-teamer as he led the conference with 13 passes defended and was a special teams standout, blocking two kicks. On the defensive line, Jeremy Mincey has created problems all season for opponents. The 6-4 265 pound senior led the team with seven QB pressures, was second on the team in tackles (61) and tackles for loss (10.5) and third in sacks (3.5). He also recorded one safety. Mincey was named to the SEC second team and has been a standout player for first year coach Urban Meyer.
Florida will not have to deviate from their gameplan that helped them defeat Florida State and Georgia, as those teams are similar in style to Iowa.
When Florida has the ball:
Urban Meyer was very fortunate when he took over for Ron Zook this season. Zook left the Gators loaded with one of the best QBs in the SEC, a talented wide receiving corps and a steady O-Line; the Gator's were poised for a good season regardless of coach.
While the Gator's did not take to Meyer's spread offense as quickly as he had hoped they were still very effective putting up 28.4 ppg. Once again, it is an All-SEC tandem leading the way on the offensive side of the ball as well. The junior pair of QB Chris Leak (second team) and WR Chad Jackson (first team) were a favorite combination in the Gators offense this year.
Of Leak's 210 completions, 81 went to Jackson including half of the QB's 18 touchdowns. The 6-1 receiver needs seven catches to break Florida's single season receptions record. This is the second consecutive year Leak has been named to the second team all conference.
For the Gators to win they will need the offensive line to continue giving Leak time to pass. The line, which also boasts two All-SEC members, has done an adequate job this season, allowing just 32 sacks. Iowa will bring pressure and the line will need to be up to the task.
The Big Ten plays smash-mouth football, and so does Iowa. Their defensive unit was one of the best in the conference allowing just 19 ppg. In addition, there is no shortage of leaders on this team, as the Hawkeye's had four players named to the Big Ten all conference team. Senior Linebackers Chad Greenway (first team) and Abdul Hodge (second team) were joined by two other first-teamers, defensive end Kenny Iwebema and CB Jovon Johnson.
The strength of the team is the two linebackers. Greenway and Hodge both accumulated more than 100 tackles and 10 tackles for a loss. They must be able to control the middle of the field against Florida, not allow the Gator's to run or hit crossing patterns and be physical. Florida would love a finesse game, so Iowa has to come out and punch them in the mouth.
The pass defense will need to play better versus this Urban Meyer offense. The Hawkeyes allowed 255 ypg through the air, 8th worst in the Big Ten. To shut down Leak and Jackson, the corners will need to play aggressive and allow for the d-line to create pressure, create turnovers and keep the ball in the hands of Drew Tate.
Florida has made 86 percent of their field goals this year (12-of-14), interestingly enough, they missed their longest attempt, 49-yards, and one of their shortest attempts, 26-yards, and have missed two extra points.
The punting game for Florida has been a strong suit for the Gators -- both in the kick and the coverage. Junior punter Eric Wilbur has been booming punts all season, with an average kick falling just over 41-yards. Of his 56 punts, 21 of them have been downed inside the 20 and 15 have been fair caught. When opponents do attempt a return the coverage team has allowed just a 3.4 ypr average.
The return game of the Gators is very average. No returns for touchdowns on either side of the return game. With just a 47-yard return as the longest on kicks and a 29-yard return on punts. An explosive return is not likely to happen here, so don't bet on a special teams play making the difference.
Iowa has a good kick game as well. Junior kicker Kyle Schlicher is a three-year starter for the Hawkeyes and they trust him to put up three when they need it. Schlicher, has made 16-of-19 attempts on the year, and has a long of 52. He has not missed inside of 40 yards, but has struggled on occasion over 40, making just 2-of-5.
The return game for Iowa is terrible. They will not turn the game on a big return. The kick return team is averaging less than 16-yards per return and has none for touchdowns. Punt returns are slightly better giving the Iowa an 11 yard average, which does cut down the filed position battle.
Like Florida, Iowa covers punts exceptionally well. On the season the Hawkeyes are allowing teams just less than four yards per punt return. While the punt itself has not been that good, just a 38 yard average, not allowing teams to gain yardage after has kept the field position battle in Iowa's favor.
Florida is making the Outback Bowl an annual trip as the Gators are playing in their third game in four years. Unfortunately they are 0-2 entering this contest, including a loss two years ago to Iowa.
The game is an interesting match-up with two very different styles of play on the field; so naturally, whichever team executes its gameplan better should win. Both teams have played teams with similar style offenses in their conference play, so implementing a scheme should not be difficult. Florida has the better athletes on offense, while Iowa has their strength on defense. Strength versus strength in this year's version of the Outback Bowl; should be a great game to watch.
The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of Doc's football picks service.