Iowa CITY, Iowa - The Iowa offense faces its stiffest challenge to date on Saturday when Michigan State comes to town (11 a.m., ESPN2). The Spartans rank first nationally in total defense, allowing a meager 188.8 yards per game.
The MSU defense dominated the talk at Tuesday's weekly press conference here. Coach Kirk Ferentz and his Hawkeye offensive players were asked how they could overcome their visitors stingy ways.
The Spartans' success on that side of the ball has drawn the attention of the Iowa athletes trying to score against it. It also hasn't been lost on Iowa's defenders.
"Knowing that they have one of the best defenses makes us want to shoot for that, too," Hawkeye Defensive End Dominic Alvis said. "We want to be at the top of the Big Ten. That's always out goal is to just be the most dominate defense out there."
Iowa ranks seventh in total defense (265.6 yards per game). The Hawkeyes are allowing 4.31 yards per play while MSU is at a remarkable 3.03.
"There are some things that they're going to hold true," MSU Coach Mark Dantonio said. "The ability to tackle in space, pressure the quarterback, stop the run, those type of things. They're going to play their defense.
"You're not going to see them going in and out of their defense and changing from year to year. They're going to be who they are, they're going to be good at that, and they're going to master that craft."
Iowa cornerback B.J. Lowery was named the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Week on Sept. 23 after recording two pick-sixes. Linebacker James Morris captured the award Monday after compiling eight tackles, a sack and an interception at Minnesota last weekend.
Iowa and Michigan are the only two schools not to have allowed a rushing touchdown this season. The Spartans come into this game having given up two scores on the ground.
"I'm not worried about a tit-for-tat contest or who's better, this and that," Morris said. "I'm just worried about us. I know that they do have a good defense and people are saying those things because it's true.
"But I feel good about our team and where we're going and hopefully where we're going to be. We're just really focused on Michigan State's offense and what we can do to stop them."
INJURY REPORT: Connor Boffeli crumbled to the ground after the final play at Minnesota on Saturday. The senior laid on the turf for a while before getting to his feet and leaving under his own power.
"Ra'shede Hageman was going for the tackle on the running back and just kind of fell into the side of my knee," Boffeli said Tuesday. "It was just a little tweak, nothing major. It was the same knee I injured a little during the Iowa State game so I didn't know what was going on. I felt a little pain so I didn't want to walk on it until (the trainers) got out there.
"Right now, I feel pretty good."
Cornerback Jordan Lomax, who has been sidelined since injuring his hamstring in the season opener, might be ready to get back in action this week, Ferentz said. The coach said he needs to see the sophomore practice at full speed this week before determining his availability for this weekend.
CORNERBACK CONTROVERSY?: Ferentz was noncommittal when asked if true freshman Desmond King had secured the starting corner spot opposite B.J. Lowery with his play since stepping in for Lomax.
"You know, we'll probably play this week as it goes," the coach said. "We will have a little time afterwards. Jordan has only played part of the game and King really is the veteran right now, which seems funny to talk about a guy who was in high school six months ago, but he's been able to practice and able to play, and that's where we're at right now.
"And then you got (Sean) Draper and (Maurice) Fleming who are healthy now and practicing, so hopefully we will have a healthy combination when all is said and done."
MOTHER KNOWS BEST: Morris verbally committed to Iowa as a sophomore at Solon High. The linebacker grew up around the program with his father, Greg Morris, serving as the longtime equipment manager.
While the recruitment proved easier than with most prospects that come into the fold, there still was work to be done.
"That ended up fairly early, but I still got grilled by his mom," Ferentz said. "She wanted to sit down and I got 30 questions. I got them and they were pointed and all that kind of stuff but that's part of recruiting, too.
"It's like being a consumer you have the right to ask anything and I think it's smart that people do that, to her credit, she did. It wasn't totally painless but it wasn't too bad."
BREAKING AWAY: Carl Davis grew up in Sterling Heights, Michigan, north of Detroit. He and the Spartans courted before the big defensive lineman headed west to Iowa City.
"They were in my high school my junior year,' Davis said. "They were around heavy. I went to about three camps up there. I was always around there."
"(The Spartans) recruited me but it was just a little bit different," Davis said. "I wanted to go there at first and after being around there it just wasn't the place for me. I knew I needed to leave."
RED ZONE REJECTION: One of the few weak points of the Iowa team through five weeks is its inability to cash in when inside the opponent 20 yard line. The Hawkeyes rank 106th nationally in red zone offense, .696 scoring percentage (23 trips, 11 touchdowns, five field goals).
"That's the big thing on our list right now that we have to address," Ferentz said. "We're doing some things better but that's something that we have to do. We can't expect to continue on at the rate that we're at. We have to do a better job."
COVERAGE CONCERNS: Iowa dominated the Minnesota game outside of some shoddy kickoff coverage. The Hawkeyes checked in at 111th nationally in that category this week, allowing 25.78 yards per return.
"Not happy about that, certainly, but I think the good news from my vantage point it's not like we were earlier, or over the last couple of years, especially early in the season when we looked anemic out there," Ferentz said. "The things that happened Saturday, we are not that far away and when we are covering we are covering pretty good, so I feel like we're on the right path. We've got the right guys right now and they're still learning a little bit about how to do a couple of things on the coverage. I feel like what we have now we can work with and continue to improve, whereas we have had times over the last four or five years where it's like, ‘what the heck is going on out there and what do we have to do here,' but it's not that situation right now."