IOWA CITY, Ia. — Where’s the love for Iowa’s defense?
When the Hawkeye football team opened spring practices last week, much of the attention was on the offense, and who would emerge as the starting quarterback.
But when it comes to the defense, things are equally murky.
Eight returning starters will anchor the unit, including the top three tacklers from 2012 – Anthony Hitchens (124), James Morris (113) and Christian Kirksey (95).
The linebacking trio offers a reason for optimism this fall, but there are also a few statistical glitches that could raise concerns:
An ineffective pass rush: Iowa recorded just 13 sacks in 12 games last season, the lowest total among Big Ten Conference schools (Michigan State was 11th, with 20).
It’s a problem that leads some to wonder if coach Kirk Ferentz might adopt a more aggressive approach.
“I think everybody realizes that if you just do one thing, if you blitz all the time or if you sit back in base defense, you are going to get picked at some point,” Ferentz said. “There’s got to be that mix, but at some point, somebody has got to get there.”
Departed defensive end Joe Gaglione led the Hawkeyes with five sacks.
“We have some guys who are capable,” Ferentz said. “(Darian) Cooper I think has a real knack. He’s nifty in there.”
Cooper, a 6-foot-2, 280-pound sophomore is listed as a starter at tackle after playing in all 12 games last season.
Not enough three-and-outs: Opponents converted 43.4 percent of their third-down chances – again, placing the Hawkeyes last in the Big Ten – and were successful on half of their fourth-down opportunities.
Improvement in this area will likely hinge on the front four.
Defensive end Dominic Alvis and tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat (who is recovering from offseason surgery) are returning starters. The rest is a bit of a mystery.
“We’ve been in a period of transition,” Feretnz said. “For right now, I’m really excited about the group.
“We have a lot of good, young players in that group. It’s a matter of trying to develop them a little bit and bring them along.”
Fatigue factor: The Hawkeyes’ average time of possession was 29:38, which ranked 11th in the Big Ten.
Part of that was due to a sputtering offense, which demanded too much from its defense.
On the flip side, Iowa was second in the Big Ten with a plus-12 turnover margin and committed the second-fewest penalties (55) en route to a 4-8 finish.
“In all three phases, you have to rise to the occasion,” Ferentz said. “At some point, you have to make a play offensively, defensively, special teams.
“We didn’t do a good job of that, so those are things we’re going to have to do, if we’re going to move forward.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football