OUTBACK BOWL: Previewing Iowa's Defense

In 2002, one of Michigan's heralded linebackers said that the Iowa defense was "the bullies of the Big Ten." They certainly played like bullies, bloodying the noses of rushing attacks across the nation's heartland.

However, when many of the national pundits were picking Iowa to win the Big Ten this season, or to play for the national championship, I wasn't buying it. I felt Iowa would finish closer to fourth than first because of one important thing; its young defensive line.

Iowa lost Matt Roth & Jonathon Babineaux in the first and second round of the 2005 NFL draft. Babineux led BCS conference players in tackles for loss last year with 25, disrupting things up the middle. Roth left Iowa with nearly 40 sacks and he was a terror off the edge. In fact, all of Iowa's starting defensive linemen were seniors and Derrick Robinson made the San Diego Chargers roster. That group allowed just 92.7 rushing yards per game, a number that was inflated when you account for Minnesota's 330+ rushing yards in one game.

You don't lose an NFL-caliber front four and not suffer the consequences, especially when the redshirt sophomores are your veterans. Iowa had just one member of the defensive line two-deep that was older than an RS sophomore, and he changed positions from tight end to defensive end just this past spring.

After allowing 455 rushing yards on the ground in its first two league games and looking nothing like bullies, the young Hawkeyes began to come of age.

Sophomore defensive end Bryan Mattison said after Iowa's win against Illinois, the second league foe, that it was the first time he felt like he had fun all year.

That can happen when you are thinking and not reacting.

The good news for the 2005 Hawkeyes is that is pretty much when the switch was turned on for the entire group.

During its final six games of the year, the Iowa defense allowed just 93.8 rushing yards per game. When you factor in that Iowa's six-man defensive line rotation averages 254.3 pounds, with no player weighing over 265 pounds and with its starting defensive tackles tipping the scales at 247 & 256 pounds, that is saying something.

In each of Iowa last three games against Northwestern, Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Hawkeyes faced a running back that was ranked in the top five in the nation for rushing yards per game at that time. The results?

Northwestern's Tyrell Sutton: 65 yards
Wisconsin's Bryan Calhoun: 18 yards
Minnesota's Lawrence Maroney: 10 yards

It was Iowa who once again began to kick sand in the faces of Big Ten foes.

And oh by the way, Iowa has two of the nation's premiere linebackers in Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway to go along with senior cornerbacks Atwan Allen and Jovon Johnson. Both of those players started for Iowa in the 2004 Outback Bowl. Johnson has 17 career interceptions, one off the school record.

Back to the defensive line for a moment…

Iowa's most disruptive player this season has been freshman tackle Mitch King. He moved to tackle from linebacker in the spring and though he weighs just 247 pounds, he is very quick and has cat-like balance.

He tied for the team lead in tackles for loss with 10 and he has a motor that does not quit. End Ken Iwebema had a solid season for Iowa, recording 10 tackles for loss to go along with a team high seven sacks.

Greenway had 147 tackles for Iowa with Hodge recording 139. Each player has more than 400 tackles on his career. Greenway seems a sure fire 1st round NFL selection come April and Hodge is sure to go in the first three rounds.

Iowa plays a base 4-3 defense with mostly cover two on the back end. There are soft spots in the zone through the air, such as the brackets on the outside between the corner and safety. Iowa is more than content to give you those yards, because it wants you to put together 10+ play scoring drives. It's rare that Iowa gives up a long scoring play because of this scheme; they routinely rush the passer with just four players, but they blitzed more with their linebackers this year than they have had to do in recent years. If you are not patient against this Iowa defense, your chances of success go down drastically.

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