Iowa secondary proves to be quietly successful

Iowa’s secondary is quietly having a stellar second half of the season.


Nick Rohlman

Iowa defensive back Geno Stone returns an interception for a touchdown during Iowa's game against Penn State at Beaver Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018.

Jordan Zuniga, Sports Reporter

Taking a look at the 30-24 score line of the Oct. 27 game suggests that Trace McSorley and the Penn State offense torched the Iowa defense.

But that wasn’t the case.

Several of Penn State’s scores came from the Nittany Lions having tremendous starting field position, and, in fact, Penn State only had 16 first downs all game.

Iowa’s defense was one of the lone bright spots in Iowa’s loss, and while the defensive line has gotten all the press in recent weeks, the secondary has quietly had a superb few weeks.

Over the past four weeks, the Iowa secondary has held opposing quarterbacks to a 55.3 percent completion percentage (68-of-123), and three of those weeks, it held the opposition to 50 percent or less.

It has also held its opponents to 184.5 passing yards per game, with 5 touchdowns and 8 interceptions in that four-game span.

Those numbers are a step up from the first four weeks of the season, especially when considering the difference in the talent level of the Hawkeye opponents.

In its first four games — three of which were nonconference — Iowa allowed 6 touchdowns on 61.5 percent completion percentage and gave up 176.5 yards per game.

The biggest difference from the first four games compared with Iowa’s last four has been the number of turnovers from the secondary.

Iowa managed just 2 interceptions in its initial four games with its starters in, but the Hawkeyes have now gotten a pick in every game since.

The performance over the past several weeks is especially impressive given the number of injuries the unit has faced.

Starting the season, Iowa had Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins at the corners; however, neither has started since the Wisconsin game. In their place, true freshmen Riley Moss and Julius Brents have started.

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Starting two guys who just a few months ago were receiving their high-school diplomas is never an ideal situation to be in, yet both first-year Hawkeyes exceeded expectations after being thrust into the starting roles.

In the four games that Ojemudia and Hankins started in, the pair managed only 1 interception along with only 2 pass breakups.

Since then, the true freshmen have combined to grab 3 picks and broken up 4 passes.

However, the player who has had the biggest impact in the past four games has been sophomore Geno Stone.

Stone has had more playing time in the past few weeks because of Iowa’s injuries both at cornerback and at linebacker. Safety Amani Hooker has moved up at times during games to play as a hybrid linebacker-safety, which has made room for Stone. With that extra playing time, he has managed to snag 3 interceptions and now has a pick in three of Iowa’s last four games.

Two safeties, Jake Gervase and Hooker, are at the center of Iowa’s secondary. Hooker has been notably good at disrupting opposing passing games — he has 2 interceptions to go along with 5 pass breakups.

Gervase has also had his fair share of success, recording a pick, a forced fumble, and 3 pass breakups to go along with his team leading 45 tackles.

Iowa’s secondary might not get the press it deserves, but that might just be because the players are doing their jobs.

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