Jeffrey Becker/USA Today

Outback Bowl: Breaking Down the Iowa Defense

While the Iowa Hawkeyes bring a powerful running game on offense, it is their defense that they have lived and died by this season. The Hawkeyes and Gators are both tied at 10th in the country in scoring defense allowing just 17.9 points per game, but the Hawkeyes do it a little differently.

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Using a typical 4-3 defensive personnel with a nickel look to it when playing spread style teams, the Hawkeyes don’t do a lot to try and fool you. Thy line up their personnel and they try to beat you with power and technique up front with linebackers that are excellent tacklers to complete the gaps in the running game.

Giving up 352.8 yards per game, the Hawkeyes are 26th in the country in total defense. They allow a modest 158.2 yards on the ground per game which puts them at number 48 in the nation. They also allow 199.6 yards through the air which puts them at number 28 in passing yards per game allowed.


They are what you might call the definition of vanilla up front so far this season. The Hawkeyes blitz just 7.4% of the time so far this year and the national average is 17%. They want to get pressure from their front four and they are sitting at number 60 nationally with 25 sacks on the year.

Defensive end Anthony Nelson (48 pressures, 5 sacks) and defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson  (41 pressures, 7.5 sacks) are the top two pressure guys and have more than half the team pressures among them.

There are four other defensive linemen that do most of the rest of the work up front in defensive end Parker Hesse  (26 pressures, 3.5 sacks), defensive tackle Faith Ekakitie  (22 pressures,  0 sacks), defensive end Matt Nelson  (12 pressures, 5 sacks), and defensive tackle Nathan Bazata  (7 pressures, 1.5 sacks).

Junior linebacker Josey Jewell is the only non-defensive lineman with any part of a sack and he had half a sack on the season. Again, the point is the Hawkeyes rely on the front four to get a pass rush of any sort. They will blitz a linebacker 20% of the time when teams are in 3rd down and six or more.

In the passing game, teams completed 60% of their passes in the four losses by the Hawkeyes and just 47% in the eight wins.

If you are going to attack the secondary you better stay away from cornerback Desmond King who allows just a 35.9 quarterback rating on passes against him this season. King was the recipient of the 2015 Thorpe Award given to the nation’s top defensive back. He has 13 career interceptions and two of those this season.

Starting safeties Brandon Brandon Snyder (110.7 opposing QB rating) and Miles Taylor is (124.5 opposing QB rating) are the guys that quarterback Austin Appleby will want to challenge.

Linebacker Bo Bower will play on the outside and cover the slot receiver when necessary. Bower is second on the team in tackles with 88 and will be hard to run on the edge because of.

Josey Jewell leads the team in tackles with 114 and is the main man in the middle and a sound tackler plays smart, rarely making mistakes.

Ben Neimann is the weak side backer and fifth on the team in tackles with 66. 

The Hawkeyes are in the bottom third in the country in turnovers forced, netting just 16 on the year. With teams more successful in the run they have caused nine fumbles and intercepted the ball seven times.

In the four losses on the season offenses were successful 42% of the time on third down conversions. In the eight wins opposing offenses were just 31% successful on third down.

Iowa’s defense has given up just 23 points and a total of 616 yards in the last three games of the season, all wins. They are on a roll defensively.


What Florida has to do…  This is the type of defense the Gators like to line up against. They aren’t tricky in any phase of this side of the ball. They are a big and powerful and very talented at almost every position, the Florida offense won’t have to do a lot of thinking ad more just playing.

Offensive linemen will be able to key on their man with the knowledge that it isn’t likely a blitzing linebacker is coming. An approach like the running game against LSU seems like where they should go with the play action game ready to go when possible.

In the passing game, stay away from King, he is a touchdown the other way waiting to happen.


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