‘The doughboys:’ How Iowa’s secondary got its nickname

Iowa’s secondary ranks first in the nation in picks this season with 16.

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Grace Smith

Iowa defensive back Jack Koerner gets up to celebrate with defensive back Matt Hankins during a football game between No. 3 Iowa and No. 4 Penn State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. Jack Koerner had one interception in the game. The Hawkeyes defeated the Nittany Lions 23-20.

Chloe Peterson, Assistant Sports Editor


The Hawkeye secondary found a nickname six games into the season: the doughboys.

“We get to the money,” senior cornerback Matt Hankins said after Iowa’s 23-20 win over Penn State Saturday. “The ball is money. And, as you can see this season, we get to the money.”

Iowa boasts one of the best secondaries in the country. The Hawkeyes have 16 interceptions through six games — topping the national leaderboard.

Senior cornerback Riley Moss leads Iowa with four interceptions, including two that he returned for touchdowns against Indiana Sept. 4.

Moss went down with a non-contact injury near the end of the second quarter against Penn State on Saturday, after grabbing his fourth interception. The senior walked off the field with assistance from trainers and went into the locker room before the half ended.

At the beginning of the third quarter, Iowa announced that Moss was out for the remainder of the game, and senior cornerback Terry Roberts would replace him on the field.

“Hopefully [Riley is] good,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said postgame. “We’ll find out. I’ll know more on Monday probably, when I see [the media] Tuesday, I’ll have an answer. Optimistic at this point, but we’ll see.”

Roberts, Iowa’s second-string cornerback, joined the interception action against Maryland Oct. 1, when he picked off Terrapin quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa at the end of the second half.

“It’s obviously a tough break for Riley,” defensive back Jack Koerner said. “He’s a player that we really want to have on the field, but the level of concern that we had when he went down was not necessarily high, because we know we know what Terry’s been doing. He’s been doing it for three years, and he really has been showing us in practice that he proved that he can play.”

RELATED: Hawkeye fans storm Duke Slater Field to celebrate Iowa’s win over Penn State

In total, nine Hawkeyes have contributed to the interception count in the 2021 season: Moss, Hankins, Roberts, Koerner, defensive backs Quinn Schulte and Kaevon Merriweather, junior cash Dane Belton, and linebackers Jestin Jacobs and Seth Benson.

The Hawkeyes tallied four interceptions against Penn State, giving them 10 in the last two games.

“We’re not surprised [about the rate of interceptions],” Hankins said. “It’s the work we put in during the week. Playing our own defense, having our eyes on the quarterback, seeing where the ball’s being thrown, being able to break on the ball is just repetitive. We’re just challenging each other to make plays and get better.”

Hankins has recorded three interceptions throughout the season, including one against Penn State on Saturday.

Iowa’s offense goes against its defense nine-on-seven during practice. And the defense has a simple goal: four turnovers a game. Most of the time, the defense achieves the feat.

Overall, the Hawkeye defense has generated 20 turnovers through six games — leading Division I football.

“We go against them all the time, we faced them in camp, and it made us better,” wide receiver Nico Ragaini said. “It’s definitely like the best defense we’ll play all year, because they’re so good all-around and every time they go out there, every time I throw the pass, I truly believe that it’s gonna be an interception. And that’s the trust that I have in them and so does the rest of the team.”

But for the Iowa’s defense, it goes back to the fundamentals — the Hawkeye secondary is just doing its job.

“It just goes back to our alignment keys and responsibilities that we play on defense,” Koerner said. “So, all the coaches, they prepare really really well for what the offense is going to be trying to do to us. If everybody is playing their keys, jamming in sync on receivers… I mean, the ball will eventually find you if you’re doing your job.”

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