Iowa defense remains strong despite shifts

The Hawkeye defense has continued to play at a high level despite going through changes.


David Harmantas

Iowa defensive back Amani Hooker tackles Illinois’ running back Reggie Corbin in the second quarter of the Iowa/Illinois football game on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017.

Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

Iowa’s defense knows exactly what it is.

You won’t see anything too flashy in the Hawkeyes’ attempt to slow down opposing offenses. That’s not to say defensive coordinator Phil Parker doesn’t get creative, though.

When Iowa took on Minnesota on Oct. 6, the Hawkeyes had to mix it up a bit.

Two freshmen started at cornerback, Amani Hooker moved down from safety to play as a linebacker, allowing Geno Stone to see more time at Hooker’s safety spot. With Nick Niemann and Jack Hockaday battling injuries at linebacker, Barrington Wade and Amani Jones stepped up.

Sub packages were common.

With so much shifting going on, it’s not easy for Iowa to play at its top level as it did in the first few games, carving out a spot as one of the best defenses in the country.

Still, the Hawkeyes rank second in the Big Ten in total defense (272.4 yards per game) and third in scoring defense (16.6 points per game).

“It’s hard in a sense of guys not necessarily playing in a rhythm, playing in the same spots, but at the same time, we’re trying to take advantage of this,” safety Jake Gervase said. “I think it’s going to help our defense moving forward, getting guys moving around, getting guys playing different spots.”

The movement in the back seven has been a lot to take in, but everyone has seemingly responded well.

Freshman cornerback Julius Brents recorded an interception, and Riley Moss picked off two-pass. In his increased playing time, Stone also wound up with a pick.

It has been important for Iowa to get these players comfortable on the field, especially because Brents and Moss are expected to start again against Indiana on Saturday. Starters Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins are expected to play, but the depth at corner can only help.

It will also help in the long run.

“With those plays, I feel like it’s like an icebreaker for them,” Ojemudia said. “It gives them confidence that they can do this and that they can play at a high level. So now that they’ve done it once, they have to do it a lot more times.”

With Jones being ejected at the end of the Minnesota game following a targeting call, he will also be suspended for the first half against the Hoosiers, making things only get more complicated for Iowa’s defense.

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Kristian Welch is expected to start in the middle in his absence.

Through all of the injuries and suspensions to the linebackers and secondary, though, the defensive line has been consistent in helping the defensive backfield settle in.

“It takes the pressure off us like every week,” Hooker said. “Every week, they show up and do what they’re supposed to do, and we’re supposed to do our job in the back end.”

With Indiana being a relatively strong passing team, ranking sixth in the conference in passing offense, Iowa has plenty of options to figure out how to best defend the Hoosiers.

“At the same time, Indiana could change its personnel this week,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I doubt they will, but I think that’s something they could do if they wanted to, and then you have to adjust accordingly.”