Opponents preview: Iowa defense

Part three of BadgerNation.com's three-part look at the 2005 Hawkeyes

Despite a half dozen new starters, including a completely new defensive line, Iowa should have a top five defense in the Big Ten. Why? Few teams in the country can match the tandem of linebackers Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway. Plus, the Hawkeyes have a terrific pair of corners to lead a solid secondary.

2004 by the numbers

Total defense: 106.7 yards allowed per game (No. 17 nationally); 290.4 yards allowed per conference game (No. 1 Big Ten)
Scoring defense: 17.6 points allowed per game (16); 15.6 points allowed per conference game (2)
Passing defense: 201.3 (39); 182.5 (3)
Passing efficiency: 134.8 (33); 95.2 (2)
Rushing defense: 92.5 (5); 107.9 (1)
Touchdowns allowed: 23 – 15 passing, 8 rushing ; 14 – 7 passing, 7 rushing
Third-down defense: 35.1 percent on 67 of 191; 33.9 percent on 43 of 127 (3)
Turnovers gained: 32 – 17 interceptions, 15 fumbles recovered (2); 26 – 13 interceptions, 13 fumbles recovered (1)
Net punting: 35.9 (53); 33.8 (10)
Kick coverage: 19.5 (48); 17.6 (1)
Punt coverage: 7.9 (35)

Defensive line analysis

Last season, Iowa was No. 1 in the Big Ten in rushing defense and among the top of the league in sacks because of a ferocious, experienced line that tormented its opponents. But ends Matt Roth and Derreck Robinson and tackles Jonathan Babineaux and Tyler Luebke were all seniors, leaving the Hawkeyes with a very, very inexperienced group of tackles and ends.

Only three returning players lettered as defensive linemen last season, and each of those players has just one letter to his credit. Several redshirt freshmen and true freshmen will be in the rotation.

Still, expect Iowa to piece together a serviceable unit. With elite corps at linebacker and in the secondary, the line does not need to be a world beater; it just needs to hold its own.

Sophomore Kenny Iwebema (6-foot-4, 255 pounds) looks like a starter at one defensive end spot. He played in all 12 games, but recorded just three tackles all of last year.

The other starting end could be senior Mike Follett (6-5, 255), who has three letters to his credit as a tight end and linebacker, or sophomore Bryan Mattison (6-3, 262), who could also play tackle. The son of Florida defensive line coach Greg Mattison, Bryan had five tackles in 12 games last year.

Redshirt freshman Ted Bentler (6-4, 276), true freshman Alex Kanellis (6-4, 255) and sophomore Jacob Spratt (6-2, 245) are also in the mix at end.

In addition to a complete lack of experience, Iowa's line this season does not have a great deal of size. But the Hawkeyes are rather excited about one of those seemingly undersized cogs, redshirt freshman tackle Matt Kroul (6-3, 267), who spent all of last year on the second team but did not play in a game and retained his redshirt.

In addition to Kroul and Mattison, expect to see the following players have a shot at tackle: senior Nate Roos (6-0, 280), redshirt freshman Ettore Ewen (6-0, 280), sophomore Alex Willcox (6-2, 280), true freshman Ryan Bain (6-2, 260) and redshirt freshman Mitch King (6-3, 250).

Willcox played in eight games last year, recording three tackles. Roos, a walk-on junior-college transfer, played in three games last year, with one tackle.

Linebackers analysis

The senior tandem of middle linebacker Abdul Hodge (6-2, 235) and will linebacker Chad Greenway (6-4, 245) is as good as it gets. They are each entering their third season as a starter and have already earned loads of plaudits along the way. They are physical, athletic and instinctive linebackers who make plays all over the field.

Greenway has 260 tackles in his career, including 21 for loss and five sacks. He was second on the team to Hodge with 132 tackles as a sophomore, when he also had 13 tackles for loss and two sacks and was named second-team All-Big Ten.

Greenway was a first-team all-conference choice last season and was a Pro Football Weekly first-team All-American. He again was second to Hodge on the team in tackles (113). He also had eight tackles for loss, three sacks and three interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.

Hodge has 295 career tackles, including a team-leading 141 in 2003 and 116 last year. His 79 solo tackles last season ranked ninth in the nation. He also had five tackles for loss and three sacks in 2004 and, like Greenway, was named first-team All-Big Ten.

Hodge was also a first-team all-conference pick as a sophomore in 2003, when he led the league in tackles and also had 10 for loss and 2 sacks.

Junior Edmond Miles (6-1, 228) replaces George Lewis in the starting lineup. Miles was Iowa's special teams player of the year last year. He played in 12 games, starting two at outside linebacker, and had 24 tackles. He should be a respectable compliment to Hodge and Greenway.

There is talent in reserve but it is questionable because the reserves have minimal experience. The top backups are sophomore Mike Klinkenborg (6-2, 230), junior Zach Gabelmann (6-1, 227) and sophomore Chris Kuehl (6-2, 230).

Secondary analysis

Senior corners Jovon Johnson (5-9, 177) and Antwan Allen (5-10, 180) will thrive as long as a diminished pass rush does not leave them on an island for too long. This is a very productive, experienced tandem; one of the best sets of corners around.

Johnson, who has started 27 of the past 28 games, has 14 career interceptions, just four shy of the Iowa record.

A primary reserve as a true freshman in 2002, Johnson started two games and had 31 tackles and four interceptions. He has started every game the past two seasons, with a total of 10 interceptions and 83 tackles. As a sophomore he had 16 pass breakups.

Like Johnson, Allen is not a particularly big corner, but he is very effective. He has started all 38 games the past three years after redshirting in 2001. An honorable mention All-Big Ten pick last year, he has 175 tackles, eight interceptions and 25 pass breakups in his career.

The Hawkeyes will miss free safety Sean Considine, who is now plying his trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The most experienced returning safety is junior Marcus Paschal (6-0, 200), but he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in the Capital One Bowl win over LSU and is not expected back until the end of September. He started 10 games at strong safety and two games at free safety last year and could start at either position this year, when he is healthy.

That puts sophomore free safety Charles Godfrey (6-1, 202) and junior strong safety Miguel Merrick (6-0, 201) in the starting lineup. Godfrey played sparingly in 11 games last year and made 10 tackles. Merrick started twice at strong safety, played in all 12 games, and had 33 tackles. The tandem should be solid in coverage and run support.

In a theme for the Iowa defense, the rest of the depth is very inexperienced. Next on the depth are corners sophomore Adam Shada (6-1, 180) and redshirt freshman Bradley Fletcher (6-2, 195) and safeties junior Andrew Becker (6-1, 201) and junior Devan Moylan (5-10, 201).

Special teams notes

Iowa led the league in kick coverage last year, but the punt team must improve. Junior Andy Fenstermaker (6-3, 221) and senior John Gallery (6-2, 240) will compete to take over for the departed David Bradley, who averaged 40.5 yards per punt last year.

Matching up with Wisconsin

In order to have success against this defense, the Badgers must dominate the line of scrimmage and get bodies on Hodge and Greenway to keep them from running roughshod over UW's offense. The Badgers should be able to get a ground game going against Iowa this year.

More importantly, UW must hang onto the football. Sounds simple enough, but what really made Iowa's defense great last season was its ability to cause a glut of turnovers — more than three per conference game on average.

If the Badgers have to challenge Iowa's linebackers and secondary they will suffer through a long day, but UW can attain enough success to win if they can control the game with the run.

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