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Iowa rolling out more coverage options this fall

[ 0 ] October 31, 2012 |

You can’t buy much with 15 cents these days, but the Hawkeyes might use nickle and dime to pay down the Indiana Hoosiers on Saturday.

Indiana is the top passing team in the Big Ten (286.63 yards per game) and runs an up-tempo offense.

“They put up points,” senior cornerback Micah Hyde said. “They put up some points on Ohio State, and Ohio State is a good defense.

“You’ve got to try to get some stops.”

For an Iowa defense that gave up 504 yards to Penn State and 433 to Northwestern the past two weeks, Indiana represents more of the same.

“It won’t be easy this week,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It’s another high tempo group the third week in a row.”

The Indiana (3-5, 1-3 Big Ten) offense features six wide receivers with 10 catches or more. Iowa, in comparison, has two.

Sophomore Shane Wynn leads the way with 41 catches for 397 yards. Sophomore Cody Latimer (32-532) is a big play threat and junior Kofi Hughes (27-378) also is dangerous.

That’s more speedy targets than Hyde and senior cornerback Greg Castillo can cover.

Fortunately, the return of a healthy B.J. Lowery and the emergence of true freshmen Sean Draper and Kevin Buford has given Iowa some options in coverage.

Iowa has rolled out more nickle (five defensive backs) and dime (six defensive backs) coverages this fall.

“We have a little more depth in the back end right now,” Ferentz said. “That’s part of the reason, rationale for that, plus the people you’re playing.”

More teams are running a variation of a spread offense that Indiana thrives on, putting four or five receivers into the pattern.

Junior linebacker Anthony Hitchens said he still feels confident in Iowa’s base 4-3 defense.

“I think our linebackers are doing a great job of covering the running backs and tight ends,” Hitchens said. “So I’m pretty sure it’s going to stay like that.”

However, the 4-3 defense often can put a linebacker in coverage on someone smaller and a step faster than them.

Teams have exploited that match-up at times. The Big Ten’s leading tackler (and fourth nationally with 11.5 tackles per game) wants to be on the field making stops, but understands if he is taken off.

“If they bring in a corner, take out a linebacker, I’m happy to be the one coming out,” Hitchens said. “They are trying to do what’s best for our team, coverage-wise.”

The soft-spoken Lowery likes getting his number called.

“I feel good about it,” Lowery said of nickel and dime. “I feel it gives us a better chance to get off the field on third downs.”

Iowa ranks 68th in third-down percentage defense, letting teams convert 40.5 percent of the time.

To lower that number, Iowa cornerbacks are sometimes being asked to play man coverage, too.

“Coach has been letting us know he’s going to put us on an island at times,” Hyde said. “He’s told us that since day one.”

Man coverage can be a lot more responsibility for a cover cornerback, but it also can give the defense more options on how it uses linebackers and safeties.

“We want to get the safeties down a little early and help out in the run game,” Lowery said. “That’s a plus for us.”

And that third-down defense for Iowa? When it is third-and-7 or longer, the opposition only converts 21.3 percent of the time.

“It is easier in the secondary knowing we have more guys to play,” Hyde said.

That includes Buford and Draper, who have impressed Hyde since they came to campus this past summer.

“They’ve been ahead of the game, actually,” Hyde said. “They are always asking questions, trying to figure out what’s going on with the offense.

“I’m excited for them. They are go-getters.”

They’ll need to be to slow down an Indiana offense that has scored at least 24 points in all eight games.

That might mean putting Hyde, Lowery, Castillo and company out on an island against talented receivers.

“You just try to stay with whoever you have, read him as much as you can,” Lowery said. “You’ve got to have faith in everything going on with the d-line, linebackers and even safeties, too.”

Reach Ryan Suchomel at rsuchomel@press-citizen.com or 339-7368.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Ryan Suchomel: Reach Ryan Suchomel at 339-7368 or rsuchomel@press-citizen.com. View author profile.

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