Iowa's Defense Is Great, And Could Be Better

Iowa defensive lineman Austin Schulte (74), defensive end Chauncey Golston (57) and linebacker Kristian Welch react after a stop earlier this season against Middle Tennessee State. (Jeffrey Becker/USA Today Sports)

John Bohnenkamp

Not now, Seth Wallace said.

It’s eight games into Iowa’s football season and yes, the numbers tell a certain story about the Hawkeyes’ defense.

Third among Football Bowl Subdivision teams in scoring defense.

Sixth in total defense.

Seventh in rushing defense.

An average of 10.1 points, 265.9 total yards and 87.8 rushing yards per game.

Elite.

Right?

Right?

“No,” defensive line coach Kelvin Bell said.

No?

Wallace, the Hawkeyes’ linebacker coach, nodded in agreement.

Wallace didn’t dispute the numbers. But he pointed to Iowa’s 20-0 silencing of Northwestern last Saturday and what didn’t show up in that packet of statistics handed out after the game.

Great numbers — 138 passing yards and 64 rushing yards for the Wildcats, 13 first downs, 6-of-17 in third-down conversions, 0-of-4 in fourth-down conversions. One Northwestern possession ended in a turnovers, six ended with punts, four ended on downs.

Then the coaches broke down video after getting back to Iowa City.

“You guys might write about it, that it’s a shutout, you can look at the statistics,” Wallace said. “One thing we found out Monday morning, when we came in here Sunday and then checked with our team on Monday, is there’s so much more that can be done. There’s a lot left out there on Saturday, we felt like we could have been better defensively.

“I don’t know that any of us, other than when we read some of the stuff you guys write about, I don’t know if any of us can tell you what the statistics are or where we’re at. It’s more of how much better we can get, and that our players understand that. They probably do get a chance to read more of the stuff that’s out there about us. We just want to make sure they understand there’s more we can improve on.”

Somewhere on Bell’s computer are the statistics from the 2002 defense that helped the Hawkeyes go undefeated through the Big Ten, 11-1 overall in the regular season before a loss to USC in the Orange Bowl. That team ranked second in school history in rushing defense.

Bell ticked off some of the names from that team — Colin Cole, Matt Roth, and others.

That, he said, was an elite defense.

This group? Not yet, he said. There are four more regular-season games and a bowl game ahead.

“We just want to be better than last week.,” he said.

“Again, it goes back to what we see,” Wallace said. “We see so much more that we could be better at. There’s a lot left out there.

“Can we tell the guys they’re playing well? Sure, we can share that with them. They have to coach themselves. They see there’s so much that’s left out there.”

The numbers don’t show too many flaws.

Could the Hawkeyes have more sacks? Well, OK, they have 16 in eight games.

Could they have more turnovers? Well, they’ve only had six interceptions and four fumble recoveries.

The line that features Chauncey Golston, Cedrick Lattimore, Brady Reiff, Daviyon Nixon and A.J. Epenesa have combined for 20 tackles for loss and 9 1/2 sacks.

The linebackers have been efficient — Kristian Welch, who has missed just two games, leads the team with 47 tackles and should be back soon.

The secondary is deeper and healthier, enough to where the Hawkeyes can start playing around more with the 4-2-5 ‘cash’ defense that worked so well last season.

The Hawkeyes have had to mix and match at times this season because of various injuries, but that’s been something that, historically, they’ve been able to do effectively.

“I think the proof is more in the stability of what we’re doing scheme-wise than really who is out there,” Wallace said. “I think it’s a result of a collective effort of what our guys have been able to do regardless of who’s in there.”

“We’re not surprised at all. It’s how we play football,” Bell said.

Wait, for now, before handing out acclaim, Wallace said.

“I don’t think you can call it elite to this point,” he said. “I think you have to wait until the end of the season.”

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