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Persistence, tweaking propel Hawkeye defense

[ 0 ] April 24, 2014 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. – It’s time to alter our view of Iowa’s defense.

College football is at the forefront of an offensive evolution – sometimes, years ahead of the NFL – so statistics that once reflected success no longer tell the whole story.

Mike Hardy was part of a defensive line that allowed just 128.4 yards rushing per game last season, down from 162.1 in 2012. (Register and Press-Citizen file photos)

Mike Hardy (98) was part of a defensive line that allowed just 120.8 rushing yards per game during the 2013 regular season. (Register and Press-Citizen file photos)

And traditional strategies have undergone some tweaking.

For example: Last year’s loss at Ohio State prompted the Hawkeyes to create their “Raider” package.

“We had trouble getting off the field on third down,” defensive coordinator Phil Parker explained, “because we had the guys covered up, but we didn’t have anybody to catch the quarterback.”

The Buckeyes’ Braxton Miller eluded Iowa defenders (running for 102 yards) and picked apart the secondary (completing 22 of 27 passes for 222 yards).

Against Northwestern the following week, Parker unveiled a new alignment for obvious passing situations.

“Really, all you’re doing is taking out one or two defensive linemen and putting in some linebackers who can rush and get to the quarterback,” Parker said. “You can play zone out of it, and you can play man … It just gives you better athletes on the field.”

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Parker won’t throw too many wrinkles into Saturday’s 2 p.m. spring game at Kinnick Stadium, but his midseason adjustments fit nicely in an era when quarterbacks thrive on three-step drops and pre-snap reads.

Now, it’s up to us to re-evaluate relevancy of certain numbers.

For example: The Hawkeyes ranked eighth in the Big Ten with 24 sacks last season, but were second in pass defense efficiency and passing yards allowed, with 174.7 per game.

That’s because a pattern of disruptive behavior trumps the occasional quarterback takedown.

“If you’re not going to get a sack, you at least want to be back there,” defensive end Mike Hardy said. “Get your hands up, so (the quarterback) doesn’t have three or four seconds to just sit there, set up and look over all his options. Try to get him to scramble, do things he’s not used to doing.”

Iowa’s pass rush should improve this fall, either by design or the emergence of Nate Meier, who is competing for playing time along with Hardy and Drew Ott.

“It’s great, if (Meier) can step in and be the third defensive end,” Hardy said. “In the games, we’re going to need more than just two. We’re going to need a break sooner or later.”

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For most of 2013, the Hawkeyes appeared to have an elite rush defense.

They allowed an average of 120.8 yards on the ground and a total five touchdowns in the regular season.

Then, Louisiana State ran for 220 yards and three touchdowns in the Outback Bowl. Iowa lost 21-14 despite limiting the Tigers to 82 passing yards and forcing an interception.

“Guys worry about how many sacks you get, how many interceptions you get, how many of this, how many of that,” Parker said of statistics. “It only matters if you win the game. … If you just go ahead and play the game to win, that’s the most important thing.”

So when it comes to Saturday’s scrimmage, persistence is key.

“Our job and goal obviously is to sack the quarterback,” Hardy said. “As long as we’re working our hardest and we’re pressing that pocket, making that quarterback uncomfortable … that’s good enough for us.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Andrew Logue: Andrew has been with the Des Moines Register for 19 years, covering everything from preps to Hawkeye and Cyclone sports, as well as the Drake Relays. View author profile.

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