Is this the BEST defense in the history of Hawkeye football? You can certainly make a good case for it through nine games. While there is still a lot of football to be played this season, the 2003 Iowa defense certainly ranks near the top of the list.
Consider the following statistics…
- Iowa's opponents are averaging only 13.7 points per game. Only three teams (ISU, Michigan State and Michigan) have managed to score 20 points against the Hawks.
- Iowa has given up an average of only 72.0 rushing yards per game.
- The Hawkeyes have held their last seven opponents to less than 75 yards on the ground.
- Iowa's opponents have only averaged 2.1 yards per carry this season. Seriously.
- The Hawkeyes' opponents have only run for three touchdowns this season. By comparison, Nate Chandler has run for three TDs by himself.
- Iowa's opponents are only 50 for 152 (33%) on third-down conversions.
- The Hawks have given up a TOTAL of 23 points this season in the second and third quarters. That's 18 quarters of football…4 ½ games…only 23 points allowed. Iowa has scored 165 points in those quarters.
- Iowa's opponents have gotten into the red zone a total of 18 times in nine games. These teams have only scored on 12 of these 18 possessions (67%) against the Hawks. Seven touchdowns and five field goals—64 points—on 18 possessions inside the Hawkeye 20-yard line…or 3.5 points per possession. To compare, Iowa's offense has been in the red zone 37 times this season and has scored 32 times (86%)…22 TDs and 10 FGs. Of the five times that the Hawks were denied, three times it was because time ran out in the half or the game.
- In Iowa's five Big Ten games, the Hawkeyes have given up only 54.4 rushing yards per game.
- Iowa's Big Ten opponents are averaging only 1.7 yards per carry…272 yards on 161 carries. Less than two yards per carry…I don't know if I've seen that before.
- In five Big Ten contests, the Hawkeyes have given up just ONE rushing touchdown.
- In nine games, the Hawks have allowed a team to drive 70+ yards against them only eight times. And it's only happened four times in the last six games.
- Iowa's opponents have scored a total of 45 points this season that are hard to blame the defense for. Two safeties, a punt return, a blocked punt and a handful of possessions that started inside Iowa's 30-yard line. Take those points off the board and the Hawks are only giving up 8.7 points per game.
- In nine games, Iowa's opponents have had great difficulty putting together sustained drives that chew up the clock. Only eight times have the Hawkeyes allowed their opponent to keep the ball for five minutes. (Those eight possessions resulted in a not-so-grand total of 17 points.) In Iowa's five Big Ten games, it's only happened ONCE…and Penn State missed a field goal on that possession.
- Only Michigan has converted more than six third downs against Iowa this season.
The list goes on and on. Then you think about the individuals on the Iowa defense and you realize how impressive this group really is. For example…
Chad Greenway. The sophomore linebacker leads Iowa with 97 tackles, including eight for losses. He's also broken up three passes, forced a fumble and blocked a kick.
Abdul Hodge. Another sophomore linebacker, Hodge has 92 tackles, with eight of them for losses. Hodge has forced a pair of fumbles and recovered two of them, as well. Greenway and Hodge have perhaps the best closing speed of any Hawkeye linebackers ever.
Bob Sanders. Although he's missed three games due to a foot injury, Sanders remains the "personality" of this defense. A four-year starter, the safety always finds a way to make two or three LOUD hits each week.
Matt Roth. The junior defensive end has recorded at least one QB sack in 13 of Iowa's last 16 games. He had 10 sacks a year ago and has 10 more this season.
Howard Hodges. Ten of his 30 tackles are for losses, including nine sacks. Like Roth, Hodges has already equaled his QB sack total of 2002.
Jared Clauss. One of the reasons Big Ten teams have been unable to run against the Hawks is the middle of Iowa's defensive line. Clauss has been a tremendous performer and so was Jonathan Babineaux before a season-ending injury.
Grant Steen. Another tough linebacker who does a great job against the run, Steen is third on the team in tackles with 44. The former walk-on from Emmetsburg has broken up three passes, intercepted another and recovered a fumble.
Sean Considine. Just like Steen, Considine started his Hawkeye career as a walk-on. Now, he's a very good safety, who routinely finds himself in the right place at the right time. Considine has two interceptions, two blocked kicks and two fumble recoveries.
Jovon Johnson. A sophomore cornerback, Johnson has broken up eight passes and picked off three others. He also has 32 tackles.
Antwan Allen. Another sophomore cornerback, Allen has broken up nine passes, intercepted another and forced a pair of fumbles. Plus, he has 43 tackles, good for fourth on the team.
There have also been several other Hawkeyes who have been able to step in and perform at a high level, like Matt Neubauer, Kevin Worthy, Derreck Robinson and Chris Smith.
Obviously, defensive coordinator Norm Parker deserves a lot of credit for the success of the Hawkeye defense. I'm sure that Coach Kirk Ferentz would be among the first to say that. Since the middle of last season, Parker has had his group on quite a roll. In Iowa's last 16 games, six opponents have failed to score in double-figures. And only five times has an opponent scored at least 20 points during that stretch.
The best defense ever at Iowa? The next three games should provide the answer to that question.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)