In-Depth: Iowa Defense in Opener

A second look and going more in-depth on the Iowa Hawkeyes defensive juggernaut against Illinois State.

The Iowa Hawkeyes began their 2015 campaign on defense impressively, getting a shutout from the first unit. With a performance like that, there's not a whole lot to complain about or criticize. But we'll offer some nit-picking anyways after a second look, providing us more in-depth knowledge on the group that held Illinois State's vaunted rushing attack to only 35 yards.

- This group was beastly. It's honestly tough to find faults. It was a great gameplan. They challenged the wideouts on the outside and played press coverage. Iowa entered the game forcing Illinois State to throw the ball to beat them, and they couldn't. The Redbirds figured that out quickly and went back to the run with no success. 

- The defense set the tone of the game right after the offense scored, and it was from the first few pops delivered by cornerback Greg Mabin. He was great all day as it seemed like Illinois State tried to avoid going to Desmond King's side in the early going. The one gaffe was the only miscommunication in the secondary I noticed when re-watching the tape. It was some kind of zone defense in the second half with Jake Kolbe at quarterback for Illinois State. A guy broke free towards the sidelne and Mabin was late getting there, seeming to be pre-occupied with the receiver running down the seam.

- The defense dominated but they also went all-out from snap to whistle, on every play. You couldn't ask for better effort.

- Team speed looked good at linebacker. Fisher closes on the ball well, and is the quick, athletic one of the linebacker core. There were two times where quarterback Tre Roberson tried to get the corner on Cole Fisher and couldn't. All the designed quarterback runs were contained by Fisher and Josey Jewell. 

- Obviously Drew Ott was incredible. He didn't use a plethora of moves, just a quick first few steps off the edge. The rookie tackle couldn't keep up. Ott was in on two sacks, but caused a couple others. His aggressiveness caught up to him on the screen passes a few times, good play calls by Illinois State, but the rest of the defense filled in nicely behind him, especially Desmond King. That will be something to be weary of for the future, though, as teams respond and adjust to Ott's aggressiveness and try to make him pay.

- Jaleel Johnson was another star. Even when he didn't get in the backfield on the running plays, he just stood up his man at the line of scrimmage, and clogged the entire middle. That's all he has to do to be effective. With Jewell taking on the guards like he did, and Johnson holding his ground, it really freed up Fisher and Miles Taylor.

- He's no Drew Ott but I liked what I saw from Parker Hesse. He was able to get to the quarterback even when they just rushed three once, and really set the edge well, stretching it out for the others to fly in and make the play. The one mistake I saw from him was on a play where he was actually completely unblocked on a run to his side. It was almost as if it caught him off guard, and the running back zipped by him just to the inside.

- Missed tackles wasn't an alarming problem but there was a few. The most critical one came from Miles Taylor. He appeared go high on Coprich, the Illinois State running back, and came up empty. That one has to be made. Ben Niemann missed a couple, both against Roberson where the Redbird quarterback used his natural athleticism to evade the Iowa linebacker. Niemann's are much more forgivable than Taylor's. Bazata also had one but made a good play at the same time. He read the slip screen perfectly that was thrown over Drew Ott to try to negate his pass rush. Bazata saw it right away and got there, but wasn't able to make the tackle. 

- The pass defense was as good as advertised. King and Mabin were exceptional. Taylor and Lomax have probably had better games, but neither made a mistake that cost the team on the scoreboard. Lomax made a silly penalty on the pass interference call at the end of the second half. 

- Nathan Bazata didn't get a lot of penetration in the first quarter, but he came alive in the second quarter before cramping up before halftime. He played a solid game. Jaleel Johnson was the standout on the interior for the game, but Bazata came up big, too. The defensive front won the battles. 

- Maurice Fleming played well in the second quarter when he entered the game. He had a near interception, but he struggled with the rest of the second team defense when he re-entered in the fourth quarter. 

- Hard to pick the best linebacker on the day, but I'd say it was between Cole Fisher and Josey Jewell. Loved what both did. Jewell really shot through the gaps well. He and Fisher both contained Roberson. Fisher's speed is an asset for this defense. They'll want to close in the flats a little quicker, but these two had exceptional days in my mind.

- Bazata reads slip screen unbelievably well but just can't make the tackle. Ott didn't read it. Lomax saved it from being a big play. 

- The best thing the defensive front all day were how they stretched out plays all day long and gave time for the back seven to close. Illinois State never got the corner. 

- Second team defense did well against the run, but looked clueless as a group against the pass.

- I applaud for Kirk Ferentz for subbing back in his first unit on the first score by Illinois State. It was driven to the three against the Hawkeyes' second unit. Ferentz put his first team back in though. That is a great move. It wasn't to preserve the shutout, it was to get them some reps of goal line defense. 


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