Howe: Precarious Position

A porous Iowa defense is not what the fans are used to seeing. Several factors are contributing to the tough sledding. HI Publisher Rob Howe examines.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - Micah Hyde is convincing. The Iowa cornerback says this defense can be good, and there's time to do it this season.

Micah engages the listener. He makes you want to by what he's selling. Who knows? Maybe he's right.

It would take the unit stepping forward with major improvement in the next month for it to happen. Things on that side of the ball are bad right now.

Senior linemen Mike Daniels and Broderick Binns say that the defense isn't doing the little things. They call it a break down of fundamentals.

There's a reason for that - inexperience. Iowa starts three true sophomores and a redshirt sophomore on the unit.

The Hawkeyes shuffled their defensive backs after Week 2. Last Saturday, they put their three starting linebackers at different positions. The line has even a turnstile.

Two-thirds of the way through the season and the coaches still have been looking for solutions for a unit that ranks ninth in the Big Ten in scoring defense.

Statistically, the Iowa defense hasn't performed this poorly since 2000, the second year of Coach Kirk Ferentz's rebuild. They've allowed 161.6 rushing yards per game, which ranks eighth in the Big Ten.

A feeble Minnesota offense moved the ball on Saturday in a 22-21 upset of the 15-point favorite Hawkeyes. Northwestern's third-string quarterback drove the field for a touchdown against the first team. Indiana true freshman signal caller Tre Roberson looked like a veteran against Iowa.

Ferentz has been questioned on why the Iowa defense finds itself in this predicament. Of the three phases of the game during the coach's tenure, it has proved to be the most reliable.

Not one normally to make excuses, Ferentz pointed to injuries and attrition Tuesday. He followed up by saying everyone in the country goes throughout that and he didn't want to make excuses. He was making excuses.

Everyone in the country is not Iowa. Ferentz builds his program on development of players more than most and that often creates a slim margin for error. We're witnessing what happens when that line gets blown up.

Iowa boasts good players on defense. True sophomores James Morris, Christian Kirksey and Tanner Miller, along with redshirt sophomore Dominic Alvis potentially could be stars. They're not there yet.

These guys should be getting acclimated to Big Ten football on special teams. They should be serving an apprenticeship behind guys that have already served their time doing the same thing. That's how a developmental program operates well.

That blueprint is burned to ashes this year. A number of factors are at work.

Attrition has impacted the front seven. Some guys that the coaches hoped would be helping out as at least three-year players in the program at this point, have jetted, including Bruce Davis, Jacody Coleman, Dezman Moses, Cody Hundertmark, Jason Semmes, Marty Hopkins, Tyler Harrell, and Scott Covert.

And if you look deeper, that exodus has continued in the last two classes, which could create another step back unless the gaps are filled. But again, it's hard to fill those holes when you're a developmental program building up players.

A.J. Derby moved from No. 2 quarterback to middle linebacker midway through this season because there were injuries to Dakota Getz and Shane Dibona. Iowa also has been without three-star linebacker Jim Poggi, a redshirt freshman.

Out of the '10-11 classes, Austin Gray (No. 17 MLB in '10), Anthony Ferguson (No. 82 DT in '10), Donovan Johnson (No. 68 DT in '10) and John Raymon (No. 79 DE in '11) are no longer with the program. Coaches are trying to develop guys like Carl Davis, Mike Hardy, Louis Trinca-Pasat, Darian Cooper, Marcus Collins, Quinton Alston, Melvin Spears and Riley McMinn.

We don't know how any of those players will progress. Maybe some of them turn out like Mitch King, Karl Klug, Matt Kroul, Jared Clauss, Tyler Luebke, Mike Daniels, etc., but there is not guarantee. There are a few upperclassmen on the defensive line who have been contributors this year, but they're not jumping in as Klug did when it was his time.

Let us not forget that Adrian Clayborn and Christian Ballard were highly recruited prospects. They certainly were developed at Iowa, but they had pedigrees as did Matt Roth and Aaron Kampman. Even King was a three-star recruit at linebacker.

The attrition and the fall off in recruiting are hurting Iowa this season and could carry over for another year or two. The development of guys needs to speed up to prevent that. Maybe the bridge can be gapped with a JUCO or two.

None of those "what ifs?' solve this year's issues on defense. The predicament results from breakdowns that can't happen at Iowa. You can't miss as much as it has in recruiting and development.

Yes, the two-gap, DT assignment isn't for everyone. In recent years, it hasn't been for enough of them.

The coaches get paid to recruit and develop. There isn't enough evidence of that happening in the last several years.

Can they stop the trend? They had better or it's going to be more of the same.


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