The Big Ten Championship game is the next turn on the league navigation and we’re taking time to look at the matchup and do our best to make you smarter. We already looked at some things Michigan State needed to do in order to beat back Iowa, and now it’s time to key on things Iowa has to do in order to get a hug from Jim Delany.
Here are five things Iowa must do to beat Michigan State.
5. Cash in Some Air Miles
Michigan State is going to do what it always does, and that’s go into Saturday trying to stifle the opposition’s running game. While you would think the run would open up some things down the field, against the Spartans it’s more often than not the opposite. Ohio State played right into the game plan two weeks ago by banging its head against the wall time, after time after time, after time. It never really tried to take shots down-the-field to keep the defensive-backs and linebackers honest.
Iowa would be well-advised to come out throwing more than it has early on in games. By utilizing the tight-ends, running backs and wide-outs to get some higher-percentage plays through the air, it can begin to loosen up that Spartan defensive front. Then, and only then, will there be some running lanes to mine for.
4. Be Patient
Iowa has been a team of big plays this entire season. Whether it has been in the running game, through scrambles by C.J Beathard, or some shots down-the-field, chunk plays have been a big part of the winning formula in Iowa City this year. But that was before a game against Michigan State.
The Spartans are going to make Iowa earn scoring drives with a sound front and an improving secondary. The Hawkeyes will need to be okay with production over explosion Saturday. If it means checking down to a third option, or scrambling for three yards, patience has to be a virtue. You can score on this athletic front, but the mindset has to be different.
3. Turn Beathard loose
The last few weeks have seen game-plans where C. J. Beathard is more of a game manager than buzz-saw. Some of it has been out of necessity because of nagging lower-limb injuries for Beathard, but it’s also been because there hasn’t been a need to rely on him to make plays.
There will be times when there’s simply nothing available against a Michigan State defense that seems to be getting its mojo back. The Iowa coaching staff can’t be afraid to let the talented QB make plays. Let him throw into tight windows and take shots deep. Let him get some bootleg action with the option of running. Let him go out and make something happen and turn this into a backyard sandlot game. That’s the way it has to go sometimes against an athletic defense.
2. Keep the Mistakes to a Minimum
What is it that Keith Jackson used to say about turnovers? You can’t predict them, you can’t control them, you can only hope to contain them. That seems about right, but this year Iowa has been very good in that department. It doesn’t give the opposition too many charitable gifts, making them earn points.
So it has to be in Indy as well. When two quality teams are playing, it’s the extra turnover, penalty or mistake in the kicking game that almost always seems to be the difference. Take some chances sure, but be calculated without throwing caution to the wind, and don’t shoot yourself in the foot with mental mistakes.
1. Play Free and Confident
Perhaps more than anything else, Iowa needs to come into Lucas Oil Stadium and have fun playing football. Forget about all the national title implications, forget about being on the biggest of stages, and forget about all the books and DVD compilations that will be made in honor of one of the greatest seasons in Iowa history. Now is not the time for stage fright.
This Iowa team is good enough to play with and beat almost anyone. It has balance across the board, good coaching, and a will and desire to play for the man next door. The Hawkeyes are not here by accident, and if they can have fun with it all and just play the game they’ve been playing all year, things will take care of themselves.
Phil Harrison is a frequent contributor to talking10.com. He is also a the founder of Big10news.com and featured contributor to collegefootballews.com, thestudentsection.com, and occasionally campusinsiders.com. You can follow him on twitter @PhilHarrisonCFB or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org If that doesn’t work, you can find him in the doghouse at home.