IOWA CITY, Iowa — The Iowa offensive line didn’t need a film session to be reminded of Dawuane Smoot.
The Hawkeyes remember it all, the 4 tackles, 3 tackles for loss and 1 sack from last season. The way Smoot took up residence in the Iowa backfield, disrupted the passing game and almost single-handedly cost Iowa a victory.
It didn’t sit well then. It doesn’t sit well now, and the Hawkeyes are hell-bent on ensuring it doesn’t happen again. Iowa’s plan to contain Smoot on Saturday (12 p.m. ET, BTN) is simple. If the Hawkeyes don’t pass the ball Smoot can’t get to quarterback C.J. Beathard.
“The biggest thing this week is to get it going on the ground fast and open up the run game because that will open it up and loosen their D-ends up and they won’t have as good of a pass rush,” Iowa guard Keegan Render said.
Iowa sees a weakness. Illinois is 97th nationally against the run, allowing 209.7 yards per game. Purdue allowed 200-plus rushing yards when Iowa faced the Boilermakers in October. The result was one of Iowa’s best rushing performances in recent memory.
Ideally, the Hawkeyes want to use a similar blueprint, one where they lean on the offensive line and running backs Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels.
The way Render describes it, Michigan served as turning point for the offensive line after the Hawkeyes rushed for 164 yards. The Wolverines are the 14th best rush defense in the nation.
“Last week kind of made us realize it doesn’t matter who lines up across from us,” Render said. “We can come off the ball and move them.”
Running right at Smoot may be the best way to neutralize the potential first-round pick. Putting a tight end and tackle on him for runs on the edge will make it harder for Smoot to make an impact.
Stopping Smoot is no guarantee. After a slow start he’s coming on strong in the second half of the season, recording 48 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks and 7 quarterback hurries.
“He is a fantastic pass rusher,” center James Daniels said.
Smoot’s speed impresses Daniels. When he combines his quickness and physicality it can be too much for opponents.
“We had a hard time blocking those guys last year, especially in the fourth quarter,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It really got rough for us, we’re going to have to be at our best.”
And not just with him. When teams focus on Smoot, Illinois defensive end Carroll Phillips can come from the other side to disrupt the offense. He leads the Big Ten with 17 tackles for loss and 8 sacks.
“It’s not just (Smoot),” Daniels said. “It’s all of their players. You just have to make sure all of their players don’t get started because they are very good players.”
The Hawkeyes struggle to score points. They’ve tallied 14 points or less in five of seven Big Ten games. The surest way for Illinois to keep Iowa out of the end zone is to unleash Smoot and Phillips.
“Illinois D-linemen, they play well a lot of snaps,” Daniels said. “That is what makes them good. If they have one good play that doesn’t make them good, but they can play good snap after snap after snap. That is why they gave us trouble last year.”
Render knows the solution. Running past Smoot will help Iowa walk out of Memorial Stadium with a win.
“I think we can get after them up front,” Render said.