Contestants: A. J. Edds, Jeremiha Hunter, Pat Angerer (Iowa); Jasper Brinkley, Eric Norwood, Marvin Sapp (South Carolina)
As I said when describing these two teams' defensive lines, Iowa has one of the better rushing defenses in the country, and part of the credit goes to their linebacking corps. Pat Angerer is the guy in the middle and leads the team in tackles. A. J. Edds and Jeremiha Hunter have also been steady against the run.
Iowa's practice of not blitzing leaves the linebackers available for smart rushing defense. One of our favorite running plays, that HB draw to Mike Davis that we use when we catch the linebackers spending too much time in the backfield, won't work against these guys, who will be ready to meet Davis two yards past the line of scrimmage if Mitch King and Matt Kroul haven't already gotten to him. Iowa's schemes also give the linebackers a place in pass protection. Angerer leads the team with five interceptions on the year
With the loss of safeties Emanuel Cook (academics) and Akeem Auguste (injury), Ellis Johnson has elected to move from the 4-2-5 lineups we've used throughout the year to a more traditional 4-3-4. Marvin Sapp will start alongside season-long starters Jasper Brinkley and Eric Norwood. This adjustment will likely benefit us against Iowa's standard power running game. Whereas the job of the additional safety used in the 4-2-5 was to put more defensive speed on the field to stop the SEC's spread offenses that utilize speed in space, the addition of Sapp will hopefully help us bottle up Greene.
While, like the defensive line, this group had trouble down the stretch with Florida's Harvin/Demps/Rainey combo and Clemson's CJ Spiller, they were better against offenses more like Iowa's and had an overall succesful year. There's undoubtedly a lot of talent in this linebacker corps, as Norwood and Brinkley both made All-SEC and will likely play on Sundays. Sapp, while quiet for most of his career, has played well throughout 2008 in a limited role. The strengths of these players vary. Norwood, who is a little faster, is a great pass rusher and is known by Gamecocks fans as a guy that can make big plays that change the game. Brinkley, on the other hand, is more of a run stuffer. Together, this group gives us a lot of stability in the middle and their different talents gives Ellis Johnson a little leeway in his scheming plans.
South Carolina has an advantage at LB, as we would against many of the nation's best teams. Not many teams can fill up the middle with talents like Norwood and Brinkley. However, the Hawkeyes sport an efficient group that we'll have to reckon with.
As Iowa likes to leave the linebackers in zone coverage, we should be able to move the ball fairly efficiently with dink-and-dunk screens and short hitches to Davis, McKinley, Cook, and Co. What worries me about Iowa's defense is their red-zone efficiency. Lots of teams (including Penn State) have moved the ball well against the Hawkeyes but have had trouble scoring when they get inside the 20. Iowa's passing-defense schemes takes away longer passes over the middle, such as the WR crossing routes and TE posts that we like to use in those situations. This could cause trouble for us. Hopefully we'll be able to figure out something that will work. If not, let's keep our fingers crossed that Ryan Succop brings his best game.
Advantage: South Carolina