Tom Dienhart, Senior Writer, December 5, 2015

I'm up and ready for today's Big Ten Football Championship, and having watched both Iowa and Michigan State play all season long I have my thoughts on what each team needs to do to win. In this post, I give you my four keys for Iowa to succeed on Saturday.

1. Run the ball: It?s pretty simple. This is the bread and butter of Iowa?s attack. It has been dating back to when Hayden Fry took over a massive rehab project in 1979 in Iowa City and built some great teams around backs like Ronnie Harmon, Sedrick Shaw, Tavian Banks, Nick Bell and Owen Gill, among others. Kirk Ferentz has a four-headed running back monster, bashing foes with LeShun Daniels, Jordan Canzeri, Akrum Wadley and Derrick Mitchell leading the charge. All are capable of carrying a big load, which opens the passing game for C.J. Beathard who likes to look to tight ends Henry Krieger-Coble and George Kittle.

2. Limit big plays: Look at the stats for coordinator Phil Parker?s unit. Impressive stuff. The Hawkeye defense is No. 5 overall (331.7 ypg) in the Big Ten; No. 3 vs. the run (110.0 ypg); No. 8 vs. the pass (221.7 ypg); No. 4 in scoring (18.7 ypg). A big key Iowa?s success? It limits big plays. Parker employs a bend-but-don?t-break formula used by mentor Norm Parker. It?s about not yielding big plays, making foes earn their points by executing 10-, 11-, 12-play drives. To wit: The Hawkeyes have yielded just 12 plays of over 30 yards this season.

3. Unconventional TD: Iowa is the underdog. Ask anyone. Doesn?t matter. The Hawkeyes are a well-drilled bunch that plays smart, tough and disciplined football. That?s all well and good. But talent is needed, too. And Michigan State does all the things Iowa does-only with more talent. So, for the Hawkeyes to push to 13-0 and punch a ticket to the playoffs, they likely will need to score an unconventional touchdown, with the defense or special teams hitting pay dirt.

4. Go deep: Ask any coach who has faced Iowa, and he?ll tell you that C.J. Beathard makes this offense better than the 2014 Hawkeye version quarterbacked by Jake Rudock. No offense to Rudock, who had a dandy season with Michigan after bolting Iowa City, but Beathard is just better. He?s more athletic and has a bigger arm. And it?s that big arm that has added juiced to what otherwise is pedestrian attack that plods too often with little explosive/big-play ability. Beathard will need to hit some deep balls vs. a spotty Michigan State secondary to open running lanes for the Hawkeyes? fleet of backs. The good news: This is a vulnerable Spartan pass defense that ranks that ranks ninth in the Big Ten.

More coverage: Championship game scoreboard | Video highlights on Twitter | Instagram photos from BTN and The Journey | BTN Vine videos10 memorable title game videos | Compare and contrast the offenses | Compare and contrast the defenses | 88 guest predictions | Iowa's three defining games | Michigan State's three defining games | Coaches scouting report on Spartans, Hawkeyes | What time is the game again on Saturday? | Playoff Championship Committee rankings | All of our 2015 championship coverage


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