Dooley: Hurting UF vs. Iowa's strength


Published: Saturday, December 31, 2016 at 6:16 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 31, 2016 at 6:16 p.m.

TAMPA — On the surface, it looks like a brutal mismatch.

Think the New England Patriots vs. the Kansas Jayhawks or Ronda Rousey vs. her last two opponents.

Iowa loves to run the ball. Wait, it doesn't just love running the ball, it insists on it.

It's part of the DNA of a Hawkeye. You wake up in the morning in Iowa City and the first thing you check is whether or not it's snowing. The second is who you block.

“You come to Iowa, you know what you signed up for,” said Iowa tight end George Kittle.

Florida has had a excellent run defense for most of the season, although it allowed 483 rushing yards in the last two games to drop out of the national top 30 in run defense.

That success was mostly built with salty linebackers, but three starters are out of the lineup at that position for Monday's Outback Bowl.

So it certainly looks like a strength vs. weakness situation for this game.

Florida has tried in practices this week sliding defensive backs down into linebacker spots because they are so thin. As a result, wide receiver Chris Thompson has worked at defensive back this week.

Iowa wants to pound the ball because, well, it's Iowa and this year the Hawkeyes are hurting at wide receiver.

Other than catching, running good routes and getting open, they're fine.

It's not that the disparity is that great statistically, more of a perception.

Iowa has 127 more rushing yards than passing yards, six more touchdowns rushing the ball and 27 more first downs running the ball.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, talking about Florida's defense, pointed to a different area where Florida has the advantage.

“They've got an NFL back end (secondary),” Ferentz said. “That's a challenge. We're not exactly NFL stature on the outside necessarily.”

The question is whether or not Florida's defense can force obvious throwing downs instead of getting caught by surprise on play-action passes. That's when the Iowa passing game can be effective.

“Eye discipline is always important,” said UF cornerback Teez Tabor. “If you're looking at too much, you're not looking at nothing. If you are looking at a little bit, you're looking at everything.

“But the big thing we have to do is stop them on first and second downs. They can't run on third-and-8 and third-and-9.”

Florida's defense goes into every game with the same mantra, to stop the run and make a team one-dimensional. It's hardly a unique way of approaching a game from the defensive side of the ball.

“I think it's one of the things you're built on defensively anyway is for you to really be successful, you can't allow a team to just pound the ball on you,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. “You've got to at least force them to use both run and pass.

“I think the big thing that we've got to be aware of is obviously loading the box and then not being disciplined with your eyes and giving up the explosive plays on play action. No secret, as any game we go into. It's about stopping the run first.”

They'd better be excited about stopping it because it's coming. Iowa is known as “Linemen U” for a reason and by the time this game is over, the Hawkeyes should have two 1,000-yard rushers. LeShun Daniels, who will pound it at you, is already 13 yards over 1,000 and the running back with some wiggle Akrum Wadley is at 966 and is also the team's second-leading receiver.

Yep, they're going to run the ball.

“We're ready for it,” said UF linebacker Kylan Johnson. “They're going to pound it. But we've been pretty good at stopping the run.”

On Monday, something has to give. Something WILL give.

“We need to wrap up, make great tackles, stay in our lanes, and do a great job fundamentally and hand effort-wise,” said tackle Joey Ivie.

“We like to stop the run and make people pass. We like to make people one-dimensional. That's the type of defense we are, we like to drive people to make them one-dimensional teams.”

Sounds like a battle of wills to me. Buckle up.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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