IOWA CITY, Ia. Quinton Alston was expecting a few glitches.
“There was a lot of guys getting onto the field for the first time,” Alston said of his fellow Iowa linebackers. “There was a lot of guys on the field (Saturday) who weren’t even here last year, or redshirted.”
That lack of experience was exploited multiple times by Northern Iowa – usually with quick strikes to running back David Johnson, who caught five passes for 203 yards – but the Hawkeyes saved their best for last.
Alston helped thwart a Panthers drive with a fourth quarter sack, while Iowa held Northern Iowa to a total three points on its final five possessions.
“It was a good start for them,” coach Kirk Ferentz said of his linebackers. “It was a learning experience, and we knew that coming in.”
All three starting linebackers from last season are gone. Alston is the veteran, having played in all 13 games last season and recorded 12 tackles.
Linebackers coach Jim Reid hoped to compensate with an aggressive approach.
“He just kept saying, ‘Play fast. Don’t hesitate,’ ” Alston explained.
The Hawkeyes were caught flat-footed on a few occasions.
Johnson circled out of the backfield, past sophomore Reggie Spearman, and turned a short pass into a 53-yard gain.
The Panthers tailback also burned Alston twice on a stutter-step, before making a catch and sprinting downfield.
“It’s communication issues, pretty much” Alston said. “Everything is correctable.”
Redshirt freshman Bo Bower joined Alston and Spearman in the starting lineup.
The former walk-on from West Branch, who was awarded a scholarship last week, highlighted his debut with a third-quarter interception.
“Bo’s play was excellent, picking that off,” Ferentz said.
Spearman, who was used regularly last season in the Hawkeyes’ third-down package, still has a tendency to over pursue. But he’s also a run-stuffing force.
“I’m proud of him,” Alston said.
So what’s the verdict?
On one hand, the defense was gashed by a talented Northern Iowa tailback.
On the other, the Big Ten Conference’s West Division isn’t exactly loaded with NFL-bound quarterbacks.
“I think the biggest communication errors was with the defensive backs,” Alston said. “It just takes more time.”
Alston managed to end Saturday on a positive. His takedown of quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen left the Panthers with a fourth-and-21 from their own 14-yard line, trailing 31-23.
They punted on the next play, with 5:18 remaining.
“I just know it felt great to get after the quarterback a little bit,” Alston said. “We were attacking, threw a couple blitzes at them and tested their O-line.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football