Howe: Defense Carrying Hawkeyes

The Iowa football team had been searching for an identity through the first four weeks of the season. The Hawkeyes found it at Purdue on Saturday. They're once again led by a stout defense, write HI Publisher Rob Howe.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - C.J. Beathard modestly answered questions here Saturday after winning his first college game as a starting quarterback. The sophomore put together an efficient, admirable performance but nothing to get overly excited about.

Beathard perked up when the subject turned to a particular aspect of the team for which he was very thankful. The Hawkeyes bottled up another offense.

"The defense played lights out," Beathard said. "The offense goes three and out and the defense goes out and gets a stop without them even picking up a first down. The defense played great today. It was big for us."

With much of the outside attention swirling around the perceived quarterback controversy involving Beathard and Jake Rudock, coordinator Phil Parker and his staff have the defense clicking again despite replacing six starters from last season. It's the reason Iowa moved to 4-1 with a 24-10 win against a pesky Purdue team at Ross-Ade Stadium.

"We weren't getting much done and Purdue was doing a good job defending us in the first quarter, first quarter plus," Hawkeye Head Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "The one constant was our defense played pretty well start to finish. They got nicked up a little on that first possession and then kind of settled. That really kept us in the ballgame the rest of the way."

A veteran offense has struggled to find consistency. Defense has emerged as Iowa's identity through five games.

It's not surprising, or at least it shouldn't be. Phil Parker comes from the tree of the late Norm Parker, who in many ways put as big of a stamp on this program since Ferentz took over in '99 as Kirk has.

Norm coined many memorable descriptions of his attack, most notably, the bend-but-don't-break mantra. He pounded opponents with a base 4-3 that blitzed very little but produced a steady flow of NFL players who were tough and fundamentally sound.

Phil Parker brings many of the same concepts to his unit but there are differences. They're subtle and effective.

Iowa has adjusted to fast-paced offenses. Phil Parker has leaned on more nickel packages, changes fronts, calls well-timed blitzes and substitutes way more than did Norm. The constant has been physical play and stoutness against the rush.

The Boilermakers offense scored three points Saturday. Their 156 yards represented the sixth fewest allowed by Iowa in the Ferentz Era, according Hawkeye Sports Information. They're nine first downs ranked as the seventh lowest total in the last 15 seasons and five games.

Purdue began the game finding success on the ground. The home team accumulated 56 yards on its first two drives before the Hawkeye defense buckled down.

Beathard threw a Pick-6 and a Boiler field goal put them up 10-0 early in the second quarter. Things weren't looking good for the Hawkeyes.

Fortunately the Iowa defense made sure the scoring ended their for its opposition. The Boilers totaled just 56 yards and four first downs after halftime.

Pittsburgh managed only three second-half points last week in a game that saw the Hawkeyes climb out of a 10-point hole for a 24-20 victory. An Iowa defense that lost three linebackers to the NFL after last season has grown up a lot quicker than could have been expected.

"They bring it every day in practice," Left Tackle Brandon Scherff said. "We've been watching this since spring ball. They've made great improvement."

The Iowa defense has done it with depth. Eight guys up front, six linebackers and four cornerbacks are among the contributors.

"We've been able to play a lot of guys the last couple weeks which has a chance to be a positive but only if we make it," Ferentz said.

To the credit of Ferentz and Offensive Coordinator Greg Davis, they've played into the team's strength - defense. The Hawkeyes have utilized its traditional power rushing game and limited risk.

It all has added up to a 4-1 start with four home games remaining on the schedule. It may not have looked like we expected, Davis' offense clicking in Year 3, but it's not a beauty contest. Hawkeyes have done ugly well under Ferentz.

Perhaps the most comforting aspect of where the Hawkeyes sit is that their offense has plenty of room to grow.

"We definitely haven't played our best football," running back Mark Weisman said. "It's good to be 4-1 and 1-0 in the Big Ten but we definitely need to improve; definitely need to improve as an offense. We need to be more consistent, put up more points and more explosive plays out there. This (bye) week is big for us. We have to improve as a football team as well as get some good rest."

Weisman expects the offense to carry more of the weight going forward.

"Being able to count on a defense like that is great," he said. "But as an offense we have to take more pride in starting faster and not waiting until that second half. We improved in that second half and it's something to work off of."

If that happens, Iowa might reach the high expectations it and its fans had coming into the year. The defense is doing it's part…and more.

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