Iowa football’s Koerner stepping up in secondary

Jack Koerner practiced as a backup last week, but his workload has increased now with Kaevon Merriweather's injury.

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Iowa football’s Koerner stepping up in secondary

Iowa defensive back Jack Koerner lines up before a play during a football game between Iowa and Rutgers at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, September 7, 2019.

Iowa defensive back Jack Koerner lines up before a play during a football game between Iowa and Rutgers at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, September 7, 2019.

Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa defensive back Jack Koerner lines up before a play during a football game between Iowa and Rutgers at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, September 7, 2019.

Shivansh Ahuja

Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa defensive back Jack Koerner lines up before a play during a football game between Iowa and Rutgers at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, September 7, 2019.

Pete Ruden, Pregame Editor

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Jack Koerner practiced last week as if it was a regular game week. 

Rutgers was on the schedule, and Koerner was a backup free safety on the depth chart behind starter Kaevon Merriweather – until Friday. 

Merriweather suffered an injury in practice, thrusting Koerner into his first start. The former walk-on performed well.

Koerner racked up 4 tackles in his first-career start, and Iowa held the Scarlet Knight to 125 total yards, including only 47 passing yards.

In Week 1, there seemed to be confusion in the secondary with a new addition, but Week 2 went much smoother. 

“Obviously, I was No. 2 on the depth chart all week, but I’m not letting that discourage me because you never know what happens in a game,” Koerner said. “I was making sure that if my number was called in the game or even before the game like it happened that I’d be ready and we wouldn’t miss a beat.”

The 30-0 victory was the third time in the past two seasons the Hawkeyes have shut out a Big Ten team. 

Overall, it was a much cleaner game on the defensive end than Iowa’s season-opening win over Miami (Ohio). 

The Hawkeyes gave up a few explosive plays to the RedHawks, which ultimately led to 2 passing touchdowns by Miami quarterback Brett Gabbert.

Rutgers quarterbacks McLane Carter and Artur Sitkowski combined to complete only 37 percent of their passes with 2 interceptions as the Hawkeye defense set the bar for the rest of the season. A pretty good start for a player who’s new to the playing field on defense.

RELATED: Iowa defense steps up to shut out Rutgers

“It was just like last week, but this week, I felt like we had better preparation,” strong safety Geno Stone said. “Really, I feel like [Koerner] did a good job out there, communicating well with me. We were using the same defense most of the time, so I think we communicated, everybody across the board.”

The rest of the secondary played a key role in Koerner sliding in flawlessly. Stone, Michael Ojemudia, and Matt Hankins each hold plenty of experience roaming the secondary, and they helped Koerner make the transition from backup to starter.

Koerner said he entered the game with nerves, but after getting some action in with the rest of the starters, he calmed down.

“First drive, it took a little settling in, but I knew everybody would be asking me, ‘Are you nervous? Are you nervous?’” Koerner said. “I was saying, ‘No, we’re just going out there and playing football.’ Treat it just like practice. We see the same stuff. I trust Geno, Matt, O.J. to make sure they’re helping me out, and they did a great job of that.”

Now, Koerner enters the Cy-Hawk week as the No. 1 guy on the depth chart with Merriweather no longer listed.

A Reese Morgan recruit, Koerner has come a long way in his two years in Iowa City. Phil Parker and Kirk Ferentz have both been impressed with the former Dowling Catholic standout since spring ball.

Koerner’s showing why.

“He just seemed to possess some of the things that you’re hoping to find in a football player,” Ferentz said. “[He] did a nice job last year, but he’s really grown. Did a good job in the spring, but this August, we really saw good growth, more confidence.”

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