College Football

Dominant Defense Carrying Iowa Hawkeyes To 6-0 Start

Instant analysis: Iowa football's defense humbles Indiana in opener
(Hawk Central)

In the modern game of football, offenses are as high powered as they come, lighting up scoreboards left and right. This is true in both the NFL and college football. It’s hard to find a high-level team that isn’t able to move the ball at will on offense. So if I told you the 2nd ranked team in college football is 118th in total yards per game (317.5) out of 130 FBS teams, you’d think I was crazy, right? Well, that’s exactly the case with the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Hawks also rank just 100th in passing offense and 99th in rushing offense. So how is this team 6-0 and ranked No. 2 in the country? One word: defense.

Defensive Stats Through 6 Games

Kirk Ferentz and defensive coordinator Phil Parker have this defense playing like their hair is on fire. Iowa ranks near the top in the country in a plethora of important categories. The Hawks rank in the top-10 in both total defense (274 yards allowed per game) and rushing defense (90.3). They rank in the top-5 in college football in 6 major categories. Iowa’s giving up just 13 points per game, which ranks 4th in the country and 1st in the Big 10. They’re allowing an opposing passer rating of just 89.7 and are giving up 5.2 yards per pass attempt. These rank 3rd and T-4th in the country, respectively. They’ve scored 3 defensive touchdowns, trailing only Ohio State in all of college football. Oh, and they also have the two highest graded corners in college football, according to PFF.

When it comes to taking the ball away, the Hawks are second to none. Iowa has unbelievably recorded 16 interceptions through six games, by far the most in the country. They’ve forced 20 total turnovers, which also ranks 1st. If you think they’ve been doing this against weak opponents, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Wreaking Havoc Against Ranked Teams

Iowa has played four power-5 teams in their first six games (Indiana, Iowa St., Maryland, Penn St.), and three of them were ranked at the time. All 16 of the Hawks INT’s have come in these four games. That’s an average of four picks per game against four quality opponents with good quarterbacks. That’s unheard of. Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. came into the season with high expectations after a great sophomore season. Iowa picked him off three times, including these two pick-6’s by Riley Moss.

The next week, the Hawks intercepted Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy three times as well. Purdy’s no slouch, with a 70/29 TD/INT ratio in his illustrious career with the Cyclones. Maryland signal caller Taulia Tagovailoa came into the Iowa game with 10 touchdowns and 1 interception. He proceeded to throw 5 picks against the Hawkeyes in what was an absolute nightmare of a game for Tua’s younger brother. Last week against Penn State, Iowa picked Sean Clifford off twice, then did the same to his backup after Clifford left the game with an injury. Not only were the Hawks taking the ball away against these teams, but their defense was getting off the field on 3rd down. In these four games, Iowa’s opponents were a combined 17/55 (31%) on 3rd down.

With this insane level of defensive production, this defense has to be filled with four and five-star recruits, right? Nope, not even close. Programs like Georgia, Alabama, and Ohio State are always loaded with top recruits. Iowa, on the other hand, is starting mostly two and three-stars, with just one four-star starter.

Well-Coached, Balanced Attack

There’s no wonder why Kirk Ferentz is the longest tenured coach in college football. Despite not always having the most talent, he and Phil Parker’s defenses are always well-disciplined, tackle well, and are filled with ball hawks in the secondary. Let’s take a look at Iowa’s balanced defensive attack and their individual numbers so far in 2021.

  • Zack Vanvalkenburg (DL)- 22 tackles, 5 TFL’s, 1.5 sacks
  • Lukas Van Ness (DL)- 13 tackles, 4.5 TFL’s, 4 sacks
  • John Waggoner (DL)- 12 tackles, 3.5 TFL’s, 2 sacks
  • Logan Lee (DL)- 20 tackles, 2.5 TFL’s, 1 sack
  • Joe Evans (DL)- 15 tackles, 3 TFL’s, 3 sacks
  • Jack Campbell (LB)- 55 tackles (T-11th in country), 1.5 TFL’s, 1 sack, 4 PD’s, 1 FF, 2 FR, 1 TD
  • Seth Benson (LB)- 38 tackles, 1.5 TFL’s, 1 INT
  • Dane Belton (LB)- 21 tackles, 3 TFL’s, 2 INT’s
  • Jestin Jacobs (LB)- 31 tackles, 0.5 TFL’s, 1 INT, 1 PD, 1 FF
  • Riley Moss (CB)- 23 tackles, 2 TFL’s, 4 INT’s (T-1st in country), 3 PD’s, 1 FR, 2 TD’s
  • Matt Hankins (CB)- 20 tackles, 1 TFL, 3 INT’s (T-6th in country), 1 PD
  • Jack Koerner (S)- 32 tackles, 1 TFL, 2 INT’s
  • Kaevon Merriweather (S)- 14 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PD’s

What to Watch for Going Forward

Not only will I be watching to see how many interceptions Iowa will finish the season with, but there’s another significant milestone to be keeping an eye on as well: the Hawks have held 28 straight opponents under 25 points, dating back to 2018. With the way the defense is playing this year, don’t be surprised if that streak continues into 2022.

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