AMES, Ia. — Take a bow, Phil Parker.
You’ve been the target of second-guessers ever since taking over as Iowa defensive coordinator more than a year ago.
Saturday, you earned a reprieve from you critics, as Iowa celebrated a 27-21 victory over Iowa State.
“His vision is to be aggressive,” linebacker Christian Kirksey said of Parker. “What he wants us to do is, go out there and play as hard as possible.
“He always says, ‘Don’t worry about the next play, or the play before. Worry about the current play.’”
Things got a little dicey near the end. The Cyclones scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns and kept a Jack Trice Stadium crowd of 56,800 in suspense.
But it was Parker’s troops who set the tone.
They shut out Iowa State in the first half, and gave up an average of just 4.2 yards per play through the first three quarters.
James Morris’ interception set up a second-quarter field goal, and a leaping, one-handed pick by cornerback B.J. Lowery helped the Hawkeyes maintain momentum.
“He was happy with how we played in the first half,” Morris said of Parker. “Knowing the type of guy he is, he’s certainly not settling.
“He’s probably more focused on the second half, and what he can do to be better.”
Iowa State mounted scoring marches of 82 and 59 yards, trimming Iowa’s 27-7 lead to six points.
It wasn’t enough, however, to spoil a Hawkeyes win. And it wasn’t enough to overshadow the defense’s overall performance.
“You can see this defense is taking steps forward,” said Kirksey, who led Iowa with 11 tackles. “That first half, we see we got started in the right direction, and we’ve got to learn how to finish.”
The Hawkeyes started harassing Richardson early, and it started up front.
Darian Cooper recorded the first sack by Iowa’s defensive line this season, with some help from Dominic Alvis.
Louis Trinca-Pasat broke free and forced Richardson to throw incomplete on a third down.
Drew Ott recorded another quarterback hurry on a play that resulted in Morris’ interception, helping the Hawkeyes go ahead 13-0.
“That’s one thing we’re probably lacking the most, getting pressure on the quarterback,” Trinca-Pasat said. “We integrated blitzes and what-not, just worked our games and techniques.”
The first bad slip came in the third quarter.
Richardson, who finished 22-of-39 passing for 260 yards, was able to roam long enough to find Quenton Bundrage, who slipped out of Lowery’s grasp and took off toward a 67-yard touchdown.
There was a quick recovery.
Richardson rolled to his left moments later and looked to make a pitch. No dice. The Hawkeyes had it sniffed out, leaving the Cyclones with a third-and-10.
On the next snap, Richardson overthrew an open receiver sprinting across midfield.
“We expect that,” defensive tackle Carl Davis said. “That’s the best we’ve played in a game so far, but in practice we do it all the time.”
Against Northern Illinois, blown coverages led to big plays for the Huskies. Not for Iowa State. Not Saturday.
A little good fortune is always nice. A consistent pass rush is even better.