Iowa was mediocre last season, and never more so than when Maryland overpowered the Hawkeyes physically in an Oct. 18 matinee at Byrd Stadium. The Hawkeyes came to College Park with a dominant defensive front: All-Big Ten offensive linemen Brandon Scherff and Austin Blythe and a defensive line with four professional prospects.
And then Maryland dominated the trenches. Andre Monroe, the Terps' 5'11 defensive end, undressed Scherff all afternoon. Maryland's maligned offensive line pushed back against the Hawkeye front, and the Terps bit off 212 yards on 46 carries – not an explosive march down the field, but a methodical one.
"They weren't giving up many yards rushing, and we wanted to prove a point that we can run the ball," offensive lineman Ryan Doyle said. "I think that game, we definitely set out to do that, and I think we did."
This year, though, something is different. The Hawkeyes are a surprising 7-0 and have the inside track on a berth in the Big Ten Championship Game. On defense, they've allowed just 2.4 yards per carry and one rushing touchdown all season. On offense, they've kept new quarterback C.J. Beathard standing up and jumped from No. 63 nationally in rushing offense last year to No. 25 this year. The Hawkeyes have either graduated or lost to injury three of their four defensive linemen from last year, plus the excellent Scherff, and it hasn't mattered.
On offense, Maryland defensive coordinator Keith Dudzinski thinks the Hawkeyes haven't changed a lick.
"Nothing. They're doing the same things," he said. "They're running the ball, doing a great job running it. They're good with their play-action. They know how to block all the fronts. Whatever front you give them, they've got an answer for all the different things that you do. It comes down to being disciplined, being gap-sound and tackling well."
Dudzinski said Iowa deployed an empty backfield on 43 snaps last year against Maryland. That's completely un-Iowan. The Hawkeyes, under head coach Kirk Ferentz, have for years been a power-running team light on explosiveness down the field. That's changed this year, but Dudzinski doesn't expect Iowa to approach this year's game the same way as last year's. After all, as a 4-3 defense now instead of a 3-4, Maryland certainly won't.
"You look at the tape, and you make decisions that you think are good for the football team," Dudzinski said. "We're a different defense than we were last year. You try to look at the match-ups: Who's guarded who, and who hurt us? Last year, when you look at what Iowa did, they got out of their comfort zone."
On offense, though, Maryland's approach is likely to be similar. Somehow, the Terps have to find a way to once again run on what's been one of the nation's stoutest defensive fronts.
"This year, it's going to be kind of the same mindset," Doyle said. "They're not giving up many yards, and we'd like to prove them wrong."
Ultimately, Saturday presents an opportunity for Maryland. The Terps are 2-5, and high-flying Iowa doesn't seem especially worried about suffering an upset in the confines of its own Kinnick Stadium. Despite the apparent disparity between the two teams, it's not out of the realm of possibility that Iowa looks ahead and has a hiccup against Maryland.
"I hope they do. I hope they overlook us. It's more of an advantage if we get overlooked, because they're not going to expect us, coming up there - going up there as a team, playing physical, playing hard and getting a win," defensive end Roman Braglio said. "We're not going to come up there and just lay down."