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Iowa defense needs to improve — quickly

[ 14 ] November 3, 2011 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. Iowa enters the toughest part of its football schedule with a below-average defense. It’s proven in the numbers. It’s emphasized in the won-lost record. It’s visible to fans in stadiums and to everyone watching on television.

If the Hawkeyes can’t at least match Big Ten averages against competition with a combined conference record of 7-12 (and this includes 5-0 Penn State), then how can they expect to beat three rated opponents, as well as an opponent in a location where Iowa has won just once in 20 years?

That plot unfolds — or further unravels — Saturday when the Hawkeyes entertain 13th-ranked Michigan at 11a.m. in Kinnick Stadium.

A victory, and all is well again among Iowa fans still shaking heads about last Saturday’s shocking loss at Minnesota. Another defeat, and then fans can wonder about traveling to a bowl game for the 10th time in the past 11 years.

“The cavalry is not coming,” coach Kirk Ferentz said this week. “We’re not going out and picking up any free agents.”

Therefore, 5-3 Iowa will match the Big Ten’s best offense with a defense below the conference norm in at least three significant categories — against the rush, against the pass, and the two categories combined.

“I don’t think it’s a lost cause,” Ferentz said. “We haven’t surrendered yet. We don’t plan on surrendering.”

The plan is to improve — for Michigan on Saturday, for No. 15 Michigan State on Nov. 12, for a game at Purdue on Nov. 19, and finally, for No. 9 Nebraska on Nov. 25 in Lincoln.

“Four games left,” cornerback Micah Hyde said. “A lot of good can happen in four games.”

But first, Iowa must perform better against the rush.

Conference opponents average 194.8 ground yards a game against Iowa, 10th in the 12-team league, and to make matters worse for the Hawkeyes, they’re facing the league’s best rushing team Saturday.

“We’ve got to start getting off our blocks and playing our positions more detailed,” defensive tackle Mike Daniels said. “Little things have been killing us.”

Little things include an inability to stop an opponent on third-and-short. That becomes major when blown opportunities become touchdowns.

The Hawkeyes’ average against the rush is just more than 16 yards a game higher than the conference average.

That’s why people are quick to blame the line, which last season was manned by three players now in the National Football League — Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard and Karl Klug.

“The bad news is that Michigan is running for about 250 a game,” Ferentz said. “They probably could go for 400 if they chose to. They’re a very good football team with a lot of good people touching the football.”

Secondly, the Hawkeyes must do better against quarterbacks.

Denard Robinson comes to town a week after Minnesota’s MarQueis Gray passed and ran for 255 yards and two touchdowns against Iowa.

“It’s never-ending,” Hyde said. “Everywhere you look, there’s a great quarterback.”

He plays for a team against whom conference opponents average 224.0 passing yards a game, 10th in the league and certain to be tested by a Wolverine outfit with the conference’s second-best passing attack.

“The line affects the secondary … pass coverage … and vice versa,” Ferentz said. “Everything goes together, at least the way we play.

“We have 11 guys that have to play together in the scheme. If they’re doing that, it’s a good thing.

“We haven’t gotten it done well enough to win.”

Coverages have been blown. Receivers have been wide open.

“We have to work on communication,” Hawkeye safety Jordan Bernstine said.

Just like they have to work on the overall defensive package, which is almost 50 yards a game worse than conference standards.

“We’re going to keep working,” Ferentz said. “We’re not going to come out with a new front. We’re not going to one-gap it and play Tampa Two.

“We’re going to play defense, and then see what happens.”


Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Randy Peterson: Randy Peterson covers college football, college basketball and the Iowa Cubs for the Des Moines Register. Randy can be reached at randypeterson@dmreg.com or on Twitter via @RandyPete View author profile.

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