Nick Rohlman

Iowa linebacker Kristian Welch rushes Northern Illinois quarterback Marcus Childers during Iowa’s game against Northern Illinois at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 1, 2018. The Hawkeyes lead the Huskies 3-0 at the half.

Jack McFarland, Sports Reporter

The question of whether the Hawkeye defense was going to rebuild or reload after three-year starters Josey Jewell, Bo Bower, and Ben Niemann graduated was answered Sept. 1.

After holding Northern Illinois to 211 yards of offense and a near shutout, it was obvious that there was no sign of rebuilding this defense. The Hawkeyes reloaded, and they proved it. N-I-Who?

Once the first-drive jitters were out of the system of new linebackers Jack Hockaday, Kristian Welch, and Niemann’s brother, Nick Niemann, the Hawkeye linebackers looked like homing missiles that exploded on contact. Each was flying to the football, doing all they could to prove they are the current and future hit men of the defense.

With big bodies up front to clog running lanes and occupy blockers, there was little chance any running back could spring free from any of the new starters. Anthony Nelson, Matt Nelson, Parker Hesse, and A.J. Epenesa are just a few that wreaked havoc up front.

While the big boys at the line of scrimmage gave the Huskies a run for their money, the linebackers covered the receivers with a man- and zone-coverage blanket. The tight coverage by the linebackers, ranging sideline to sideline, forced Northern Illinois to stall in the pocket and allowed the defensive line to rack up 5 sacks.

With Week 1 in the books, the Hawkeye hit men will now try to contain one of the nation’s top running backs in David Montgomery, a consensus first-team All-Big 12 and first-team All-American from a year ago. But no task is too tall, especially during the fall.