Dec. 17, 2010
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- University of Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O'Keefe is working on a game plan to combat Missouri's defense that has 38 sacks and allowed opponents to score just 55 percent of the time in the red zone.
"They're built on speed defensively," O'Keefe told a group of media Friday in the Hayden Fry Football Complex. "I would describe them as a very athletic team, especially their front seven. If you look at them from a statistical standpoint, the things that you notice about them most are they're giving up a little more than two touchdowns a game, but they are really stingy in the red zone, not only in allowing people to score, but letting people score touchdowns."
O'Keefe's offense, which averages 379.4 yards and 29.1 points a game, will face a Tiger defense that surrenders 350.7 yards and 15.2 points per game in the Insight Bowl on Dec. 28 in Tempe, Ariz. Iowa has an 89-percent success rate in the red zone.
O'Keefe spent 30 minutes giving his take on 10-2 Missouri and answering questions from media. The Tigers like to bring pressure, as their sack total indicates. In contrast to their 38 sacks this season, Iowa has 20.
"You need to know where the blitz is coming from, that's critical," O'Keefe said. "If you know where the blitz is coming from, we've got a chance to get it stopped. We've got to be fundamentally sound. In their conference (Big 12), they've run with some of the best athletes in college football. They're not afraid of that by any means."
For the first four postseason practices, the Hawkeyes returned to fundamentals and participated in a majority of Iowa-on-Iowa situations. Beginning Friday evening in the Bubble, the focus turns to the Tigers. Senior strong-side linebacker Andrew Gachkar, a first team all-Big 12 selection by the Associated Press, leads Missouri with 81 tackles. He also has 8 ½ tackles for loss, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Sophomore weak-side linebacker Zaviar Gooden has 79 stops.
"They're built on speed defensively. I would describe them as a very athletic team, especially their front seven. If you look at them from a statistical standpoint, the things that you notice about them most are they're giving up a little more than two touchdowns a game, but they are really stingy in the red zone, not only in allowing people to score, but letting people score touchdowns."
UI offensive coordinator
The Tigers sprinkle in 16 interceptions to go with 38 sacks. Ten Missouri players have picked off a pass this season and six have two interceptions.
The dismissal of Iowa wide receiver Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (46 catches, 745 yards, 10 touchdowns) leaves a spot for sophomore Keenan Davis to emerge. Speaking before O'Keefe on Friday was defensive coordinator Norm Parker, who made a possibly prophetic statement that could include Davis:
"Every day a star is born, today it may be you," Parker said.
Davis enters the Insight Bowl with 10 receptions for 126 yards and a touchdown.
"Keenan Davis is a good football player," O'Keefe said. "This is where guys that have ability or great players begin to emerge, show what they're capable of doing, show what they've worked hard for their opportunities by taking advantage of what they have in the ballgame. We have confidence in Keenan, and I think there's a lot of excitement that he's going to do whatever he can to take advantage of it."
Davis won't be the only Hawkeye offensive weapon with a chance to shine. True freshman Marcus Coker makes his fourth start after rushing for 403 yards and a touchdown during the regular season.
"You can expect him to run the ball physically and run it tough, which he likes to do," O'Keefe said. "This is an opponent that's going to offer some different challenges to him and one of them is going to be in the blitz pickup game. We really like the progress Marcus has made."
The Hawkeyes averaged 32.3 points in their first four Big Ten games against Penn State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State; in the final four league games against Indiana, Northwestern, Ohio State and Minnesota they averaged 19 points.
"We probably weren't as good in the red zone in those games as we had been previously," O'Keefe said. "We made enough plays at certain points, but not enough in the end to get it done."
Iowa gets another chance to boost its red zone percentage 11 days from now in Tempe.