Iowa football report card: Defensive backs

Iowa’s secondary didn’t receive the preseason hype, but it delivered.


Katina Zentz

Iowa defensive back Amani Hooker tackles Indiana wide receiver J-Shun Harris during Iowa's game at Indiana at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington on Saturday, October 13, 2018. The Hawkeyes beat the Hoosiers 42-16.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

Defense backs: B+

Preseason, everyone knew the defensive line would be one of the strong points of Iowa’s defense thanks to its returning leadership.

The secondary, which flew under the radar (until the season began), returned its veteran core and quietly proved to be one of the defense’s strong points.

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Much like Iowa’s linebacking corps, things shifted around in the back end. Amani Hooker was used at both safety and linebacker, but it didn’t matter where he played — he flat-out balled. Hooker won the Woodson-Tatum Defensive Back of the Year award, which is given annually to the Big Ten’s best player in the secondary. He was also named first team all-Big Ten.

“It’s awesome,” Hooker said about the recognition. “It’s stuff where you don’t think about it too much during the season — you just want to help the team win. When the team wins and the defense is doing well, that’s when the individual awards come through.”

Hooker finished with 59 tackles, which rank second on the team. Throw in 4 interceptions, 7 pass breakups, and 3.5 tackles for a loss, and you’ve got the recipe for an award-winning, do-it-all defensive back.

But it wasn’t just Hooker causing problems for opposing offenses. Enter fellow safeties Geno Stone and Jake Gervase.

Stone, who saw some action toward the end of last season as a true freshman, flourished in his role, coming into safety when Hooker played down. Stone finished the regular season with 37 tackles and 4 interceptions, including one that he returned for a touchdown against Penn State.

Gervase  led the Hawkeyes in tackles. The senior had 77 stops, including a team-high 42 solo, snagged 2 interceptions, and also forced a fumble.

As far as cornerback play goes, Iowa typically ran with Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins. Both proved to be solid in both pass defense and run support (if you’re wanting to see a prime example of Iowa’s corners helping out in the run, check out their tackling job against Iowa State in Week 2).

Hankins, although playing in just seven games, averaged 5.57 tackles per game. That’s third-best on the team, behind Gervase and linebacker Jack Hockaday.

Ojemudia ended up being the ball-hawk out of the pair, intercepting 3 passes.

There were some low points to the season, though.

In Iowa’s win over Minnesota, the Hawkeyes went with freshman corners Riley Moss and Julius Brents. Brents seemingly held his own, but Gopher quarterback Zach Annexstad targetd Moss again and again, resulting in touchdowns.

Then, in Iowa’s loss to Purdue, Boilermaker head coach Jeff Brohm shredded Iowa’s secondary. Purdue quarterback David Blough threw for 333 yards and 4 touchdowns. While he did toss a pair of interceptions, Purdue’s offense kept rolling for the majority of the game.

Throw out those two games, and Iowa’s secondary held up pretty well for the most part. The Hawkeyes held opposing teams to an average of 186.8 yards per game (24th-best in the country) and gave up 58.6 percent of passes.

Iowa intercepted 18 passes this season, which ties for the most in college football. Hawkeye fans can’t complain too much about that.

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