Iowa's Defense Plays Silencer Role Again

Iowa's Joe Evans sacks Illinois quarterback Matt Robinson in the second half. (Jeffrey Becker/USA Today Sports)

John Bohnenkamp

There would be no boasting from Kristian Welch.

The Iowa linebacker was asked to describe the Hawkeyes’ defense, but Welch wasn’t going to make any pronouncements.

“Our defense? We play a 4-3, or a 5-2 high…” Welch joked.

No need for titles or proclamations. Iowa’s defense is all about doing, and finishing, a job, and then doing the same thing next week.

Saturday’s 19-10 win over Illinois at Kinnick Stadium was just another one of those days for the defense.

The Illini made plays. They had 192 rushing yards and 144 passing yards.

They got the yards, but not the points. It was their lowest scoring output of the season.

The Hawkeyes have been doing that to teams. It just happened last week in a 23-19 win over Minnesota.

“You saw today,” said Welch, who led Iowa with 12 tackles, including 10 solos. “We had to make adjustments, they made plays. That’s all part of it. Just rolling with it.”

“We’re just a sound group, as sound as possible,” said defensive end Chauncey Golston. “We’re just trying to be the best at the basics.”

The Hawkeyes, ranked 19th in the Associated Press poll and 20th in the coaches poll, moved to 8-3 overall, 5-3 in the Big Ten.

There is always a concession after these wins that no, it’s not about artistry.

Iowa’s offense consisted of one touchdown on the first possession of the game, and then four Keith Duncan field goals the rest of the day.

But if the other guy is having a hard time scoring…

“We would like to get shutouts,” safety Geno Stone said. “But we want to hold teams to as few points as possible.”

The Hawkeyes are doing that — 12.2 points per game this season.

“I think that's a great thing these guys work together, they work hard,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They've had some ups and downs, but the production has been great.”

“There’s no quit in those guys,” Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley said. “I think it’s pretty evident in how those guys play. They’re not going to stop, they’re not going to quit. They kept us in a lot of games this year. And, quite frankly, won a lot of games for us this year with the way they played.”

Ferentz said he isn’t a numbers guy, but even he sees the scoring average against his team.

“Yeah, I don't get too excited about stuff, but I did think this week, that's pretty good,” he said. “We're 12, whatever we were average wise. So you don't get excited about statistics, but now we are into November, so they do have a some bearing and credit to those guys.”

The defense was especially stifling in the second half. Illinois (6-5, 4-4) came in on a four-game winning streak, having outscored opponents 79-22 in the second half during the streak.

The Illini got into Iowa territory on three consecutive possessions to start the second half, and only came away with one field goal.

“When they’re going down (the field), you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, we’ve got to stop this,’” Golston said. “But we bent. We didn’t break. Those touchdowns, they can change a game real quick.

“So three, instead of 21? That’s pretty good.”

Iowa had three takeaways against the Illini, who came in leading the nation in takeaways and turnover margin.

Welch forced a fumble. Michael Ojemudia and Matt Hankins had interceptions — the Hankins’ pick coming in the end zone on the Illini’s first possession of the third quarter, with Iowa clinging to a 13-7 lead.

“We were kind of bleeding a little bit. He came up clutch with that play,” Golston said.

Iowa’s offense put up 387 yards, but 308 of those came from Stanley passes. The Hawkeyes had 79 rushing yards on 32 carries, prompting Ferentz to joke that maybe Stanley, who led the team with 5.5 yards per carry (4 carries, 22 yards) should be at running back next week.

"When somebody doesn’t have their best stuff — it’s kind of like a pitcher in baseball, when somebody doesn’t have their best stuff — the defense behind them, they’re going to try to make plays behind them," Stanley said.

It was all on the defense, and that’s fine, Welch said.

“The pressure’s on us,” he said. “We take that as a defense. We accept that. We want that pressure for us to perform.”

It was another performance that seemed worthy of high praise, yet you weren’t going to find that among the Hawkeyes.

“It’s what we do,” Stone said.