Faith in Iowa’s defensive tackle depth

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Depth is critical when building a football team, especially on the defensive line.

Iowa likes to rotate players in and out in an attempt to keep them fresh throughout the game. Considering the offensive side of the ball has had a dip in time of possession compared with last season, it’s become even more important.

The Hawkeyes have gotten a good bit of production out of their defensive tackles this season. This, in part, is because of the strong play of fifth-year senior Faith Ekakite.

“He’s a tremendous young man, first of all. He’s a really interesting guy. But he’s gotten better with every year,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “And when we went back through the film last year, he probably played a little better last year than maybe we gave him credit for at times.

“He just keeps on pushing through.”

He has tallied 16 tackles on the season (8 solo, 8 assisted) and a pass deflection. Those numbers don’t seem huge, but it’s comparable with the other three defensive tackles who have also played in all six games this season

Starters Jaleel Johnson and Nathan Bazata have tallied 27 and 24, respectively, while back up Sam Brincks has just 2.

Ferentz has made it an important point to get them all playing time, and it has paid off.

“You’ve got [Faith] and Jaleel our two senior guys, and they’ve played a lot of football for us the last several years. So we’re pretty veteran in there,” Ferentz said. “But we went in with the thought of rotating all three of those guys and trying to keep the balance pretty even through the three of them.”

Ekakite has helped keep Johnson and Bazata fresh, which has paid off. Johnson has 3.5 sacks this season and has been an absolute terror to block throughout the season. Likewise, Bazata has been having a decent year as well, with 1.5 sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss.

While Ekakite has yet to tally a tackle for loss or sack, he’s still been critical in the pass rush. He doesn’t get beat often and at 6-3, 290, he’s quick and a difficult player to block effectively.

“I’ve really loved his tempo in practice,” Iowa offensive lineman Ike Boettger said. “He’s a long, athletic guy, very strong, and he’s really a handle to block. When he goes, and he’s been going all year, it’s been fun to watch.”

It has to have been a sometimes-frustrating lead up to this point for Ekakite. After redshirting as a freshman, he played sparingly his freshman season and was injured for a good deal of his sophomore year.

The former four-star recruit (who had offers from Wisconsin, Michigan, UCLA, Tennessee, Stanford, and a whole lot more) finally got a bit more playing time last season but wasn’t used significantly until the final two games of the season.

He’s certainly making more of his playing time this season, but has yet to have a true breakout game.

However, he’s just trying to focus on what’s in front of him.

Time, however, is running out. There’s plenty of confidence, to be sure, but there’s also an important sense of urgency.

“You’re a fifth year senior, you have to get things going eventually,” Ekakite said. “I wouldn’t even say the lights completely clicked yet, and I know my best football is ahead of me.”

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