Iowa got their season off to the start they wanted with a 31-14 victory over Illinois State on Saturday. The story of the day was the defense, and the first team was able to pitch a shutout before leaving the field. It was a day where they prevented the Redbirds offense, a potent one, to get anything going all day and they never really were able to even threaten against the Hawkeyes until some of the backups entered the contest.
Illinois State's offense was supposed to be a challenge. They were the national runner-up in the FCS last year, and brought back their explosive playmakers in quarterback Tre Roberson and running back Marshaun Coprich. Roberson threw for over 3,000 yards a year ago and ran for another 1,000, while Coprich ran for over 2,300 yards. Iowa defense stifled them all day. Roberson threw for 49 yards on 5 completions in 12 attempts, and he rushed for -12 yards on 12 carries. The Illinois State quarterback was also sacked five times. Coprich was limited to 32 yards rushing on 13 carries.
It started and ended with the defensive line for Iowa. Drew Ott went through a considerable portion of the game where he is was literally unblockable. He collected two sacks, and probably caused each of the other three that were recorded on the day. It was a matchup I thought they could exploit going into the game as he faced a left tackle for Illinois State getting his first piece of game action as well. Ott wasn't the only one that went to work, as Nathan Bazata and Jaleel Johnson also put in excellent performances. Both of the starting defensive tackles were extremely active and very productive. Jaleel Johnson wasn't as effective as a pass rusher but he's more of the run-clogger in the middle. Bazata produced against the run and the pass, and just had an outstanding game.
The Hawkeyes had a good game in the middle of the defense, and the most activity came from Cole Fisher at linebacker who lead the team in tackles with eight. He also chased plays to the sideline, taking the necessary pursuit angles and getting there. He has more quickness than many thought. Ben Niemann got juked out of his shoes one time by Tre Roberson, but other than that he was also very active and made no glaring mistakes. Josey Jewell had a quite day numbers-wise, but he had a lot to do with containing Roberson and boxing him in all day. The middle linebacker plays a large role in that responsbility and they contained the most dangerous playmaker for Illinois State. Travis Perry and Bo Bower also played.
The secondary wasn't tested all that much, particularly on the first defensive unit. Illinois State never had the time to really pass down the field. Iowa played tight on the edges, and really challenged Illinois State to throw the ball. King and Mabin played very close to the line of scrimmage all day, and that's why they were able to provide support in the running game and deliver some hits, especially Greg Mabin early on. They made Illinois State prove they could beat Iowa over the top and they never did, so the Hawkeyes crowded the wideouts for Illinois State. The only downside would be the couple missed tackles from Miles Taylor in the first quarter, but he cleaned it up and it didn't happen the rest of the game.
Hear more about the defensive success in the video above from Cole Fisher, Greg Mabin, and Josey Jewell.