Iowa’s Jake Rudock once quarterbacked his Florida high school team in a game at Ohio Stadium.
Today’s return to the Horseshoe figures to have a change in atmosphere.
“It’ll be a little different,” Rudock joked. “There will be a couple thousand more fans.”
He will lead the Hawkeyes (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) against No. 4 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0), which is riding a nation’s best 18-game winning streak, before more than 105,000 partisan fans.
Rudock, who led Fort Lauderdale’s St. Thomas Aquinas to a lopsided victory over Upper Arlington before a small crowd in the cavernous stadium, is now in charge of a run-first offense led by running back Mark Weisman.
But the real backbone of the team is a defense that gives up just 89 yards rushing per game.
Meanwhile, the Buckeyes are trying hard to concentrate on the Hawkeyes as they iron out a few problem areas and preserve that winning streak.
“It’s a great feeling, but with that comes a lot of pressure,” safety Corey Brown said. “A responsibility, stepping up and everything like that.”
Here are five things to keep an eye on when the ‘eyes have it out:
Iowa, of course, wants nothing more than to steal some headlines by putting an end to Ohio State’s win streak.
Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz says it’s not a fluke.
“To me, the one streak that’s impressive right now is they’re undefeated,” he said. “They’re fourth in the country. You don’t fall into that. They’ve got a really good team and they’re playing really well.”
With a win, Ohio State can tie the second longest winning streak at the school, trailing only the 22-game skein put together over the 1967-69 seasons.
“Oh, really? I didn’t know that,” Buckeyes QB Braxton Miller said. “Wow. That would be amazing.”
STREAK BREAKER II
The Hawkeyes have yet to give up a rushing touchdown all season — the only team to be able to make that boast in all of major-college football.
The Buckeyes have made note.
“We definitely want to get that first one,” center Corey Linsley said.
Ohio State is 11th in the nation in running the ball and Iowa also favors chewing up yardage between the tackles. Something’s got to give.
So does the winner of the rushing totals — Weisman vs. the Buckeyes’ bruising Carlos Hyde — win the game?
“On paper it might look like that,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. “I think everybody understands though that we’re kind of hard to run against and they’re kind of hard to run against. We’re certainly not going to be stubborn.”
If it’s even remotely close to a stalemate on the ground, the outcome will hinge on big plays in special teams and on passing plays.
SPEAKING OF WHICH
Iowa’s Kevonte Martin-Manley (25.8 yards per punt return) and Ohio State’s Corey Brown (16.1) rank 1-2, respectively, in the Big Ten.
Don’t be surprised if either one tilts the game in his team’s favor with a long return.
Rudock has been effective all year (passing for 1,202 yards and 8 TDs, running for 139 yards and 5) but has been prone to making an occasional costly mistake.
It’s unlikely he can afford to do that this week.
Meanwhile, Miller lost two fumbles and threw an interception in his last game against Northwestern, which the Buckeyes still pulled out of the fire with a fourth-quarter rally, 40-30.
“I watched some film on it,” the junior said of the fumbles. “I really wasn’t holding the ball correctly when I was cutting throughout the holes. I wasn’t holding the ball real tight. It’s an easy fix.”
That might be the only time anyone on either team says the word “easy” this week.