Defense hits late-season rut

Minnesota+running+back+Shannon+Brooks+gets+tackled+by+a+cluster+of+Iowa+defensive+players+during+the+Iowa-Minnesota+game+at+Kinnick+on+Saturday%2C+Nov.+14%2C+2013.+The+Hawkeyes+defeated+the+Golden+Gophers%2C+40-35+to+stay+perfect+on+the+season.+%28The+Daily+Iowan%2FMargaret+Kispert%29

Minnesota running back Shannon Brooks gets tackled by a cluster of Iowa defensive players during the Iowa-Minnesota game at Kinnick on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2013. The Hawkeyes defeated the Golden Gophers, 40-35 to stay perfect on the season. (The Daily Iowan/Margaret Kispert)

Jordan Hansen, [email protected]

With 6:08 to go in the fourth quarter of Iowa’s 40-35 win over Minnesota on Nov. 14, the Gophers got the ball back at their own 40 after a short Iowa punt.
Three plays later, Minnesota wide receiver Drew Wolitarsky caught a pass from running back Shannon Brooks and ran untouched for 40 yards into the end zone. Iowa safety Miles Taylor had read run, sprinted in to help, and was completely out of position to make a play.

It was not the only mistake from the Iowa secondary during an evening in which the Minnesota offense put up 434 yards — 301 through the air. In fact, Iowa’s defense has been a growing question mark over the last few weeks.

“I think as a defense we’ve taken a little step back,” Taylor said. “I think we need to refocus, watch a little bit more film, correct our mistakes, and play with more passion.”

Iowa has allowed four plays of longer than 30 yards over the last two games after only allowing eight during the previous eight games. Even more troubling for defensive coordinator Phil Parker’s unit is the number of yards and points they’ve given up.

“[Minnesota] had a lot of big plays, a couple trick plays, and that’s where they got us,” cornerback Desmond King said. “That’s where we really messed up.”

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The Hawkeyes have now allowed 400-plus yards in back-to-back games and have given up 62 points combined in those contests. As a point of comparison, Iowa gave up 67 total points during the five games preceding the dates with Minnesota and Indiana.

Both Taylor and King noted that Iowa needs to maintain better “eye-discipline,” a buzzword with several meanings.

“Eye-discipline means reading your keys, staying to your assignment, communication, making sure we’re all on the right page,” Taylor said. “There were a couple times we weren’t on the right page tonight — and that’s a huge thing, a huge factor for the defense.”

The corners and safeties have not been the only players out of position at times this year. Several times against Minnesota, the Iowa linebackers read the play wrong and paid the price.

Linebacker Cole Fisher said the noise from the crowd had a bit of an effect on communication, and the outside linebacker missed on a couple plays.

“The win was a little bittersweet, based on the defense’s performance tonight,” Fisher said. “That wasn’t what we were looking for, especially on that last drive — that was hard to swallow.”

The drive Fisher noted was Gophers’ final offensive possession of the game and saw them drive 75 yards down the field in just six plays.

Gopher quarterback Mitch Leidner went 4-of-6 for 57 yards during the drive, and Brooks punched in the ball from 3 yards out to pull the Gophers within 5 of Iowa.

While the ensuing onside kick bounced harmlessly out of bounds, a solid defensive stand wouldn’t have allowed the game to come down to the hands team recovering the kick. It’s certainly not a position Iowa wanted to be in, especially in a heated archrivalry game.

“I think we were a bit lax [against Minnesota],” Taylor said. “We weren’t as hungry as we needed to be, and that starts in practice.”

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