Hawkeye defense proves its worth in season-opener against Northern Illinois

With an improved Iowa State team coming to Kinnick, the Iowa defense will have to play as it did against Northern Illinois in order to win.


Nick Rohlman

Iowa’s Chauncey Golston recovers a fumble during Iowa’s game against Northern Illinois at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. The Hawkeyes defeated the Huskies 33-7.

Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

Iowa’s second half in the season-opener against Northern Illinois went exactly as the Hawkeyes planned, but the first half was a different story. Still, it was more ideal than Iowa State’s.

After going up 7-0 over South Dakota State, the Cyclones were forced to cancel their battle mid-game after weather delays plagued it from the start — just hours after Iowa picked it up in the second half for a 33-7 win over the Huskies.

But when Iowa takes on the Cyclones in Kinnick on Saturday, the Hawkeye offense will need to match the level of its defense earlier rather than later.

There were numerous times in the first quarter in which the offense (or special teams) put the defense in a bad position. A blocked punt put the Huskies near Iowa’s 20-yard line, while a Nate Stanley interception when Iowa was driving put more pressure on the defense to get a stop.

Iowa still didn’t allow a touchdown until late in the fourth quarter, when the Huskies scored in garbage time.

“They had some long drives there in the first half, and I thought our defense buckled down when we needed to and forced them to two field goals that they ended up missing, so that was nice,” linebacker Jack Hockaday said. “You just kind of got to stay after it. They’re going to make some plays, and we’re going to have some mistakes, but you just got to buckle down when it comes and make a stop.”

Just as the defense stepped up when its back was against the wall, so did Hockaday. Hockaday replaced starting middle linebacker Amani Jones — who had been thought to be the leader of the group — in the first quarter, and the inexperienced linebacker corps did not miss a beat.

The defensive line was without tackles Brady Reiff and Cedrick Lattimore, which affected the depth of the group.

But just like the linebackers, the change in personnel didn’t seem to affect the front four; the defensive line constantly applied pressure to the quarterback and got into the backfield, especially in the second half.

Sam Bricks and Chauncey Golston, along with usual suspects Parker Hesse, Anthony Nelson, and A.J. Epenesa, stepped up to hold the Huskies scoreless when the first team was on the field.

“I think another credit to the depth we have in our room, where we have guys like Sam and Chauncey playing inside and outside,” Hesse said. “That really helps us if we’re ever in a situation like we were this week, just to be able to still go out there, and cover ourselves, and get our jobs done.”

The Iowa defense has a big challenge ahead of it now with in-state rival Iowa State coming to town. While having game experience is certainly an advantage for the Hawkeyes, Iowa is low on game film from the Cyclones.

It’s almost as if Iowa is playing another season-opener because of the lack of film and the opponent coming in without playing a game.

Allen Lazard might be gone, but the Hawkeyes still have to deal with quarterback Kyle Kempt and running back David Montgomery, who finished third in the Big 12 last year with 1,146 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Luckily for Iowa, a strong, deep, and experienced defensive line goes a long way.

“If we’re going to have a good defense, we’re going to need those guys to continue,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They’ve got to pace us a little bit, because we’re pretty green behind them.”