Iowa’s defense solid in domination of TTU


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Tre Lamb backpedaled into the safety of the pocket and cast his eyes downfield.

The Tennessee Tech quarterback spotted running back Adam Urbano cutting through the middle of the soggy Kinnick Stadium field and whipped the ball in his direction as the pocket collapsed.

He didn’t see Urbano change direction until after he released the football. He also didn’t see Iowa middle linebacker James Morris zero in on the hurtling pigskin’s flight path.

“I read the quarterback’s eyes, and he ended up throwing it right into my lap,” Morris said. “Those two weren’t on the same page because the quarterback had been moving around. [Urbano] broke to the right, and the quarterback threw it right where he was. I was over the top of the running back, so he threw it right to me.”

The sophomore snatched the ball with two hands, cradling it into his stomach as he began to run. Fifty-two yards and three broken tackles later, he was finally dragged down on the Tennessee Tech 9-yard line.

“The end zone is all I saw,” he said and laughed. “I’d have to look at the film, but from what I remember, I felt there was going to be a few collisions during the return.”

Morris’ first career interception led to a Hawkeye field goal in the team’s 34-7 whipping of the Golden Eagles, and — more importantly — helped quiet the questions many seemed to have about the 2011 edition of the Iowa defense.

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Defensive coordinator Norm Parker’s unit dominated Tennessee Tech at all levels of the field, from the defensive line to the safeties. Through three quarters — roughly when coach Kirk Ferentz pulled most of his starters after an 84-minute lightning delay — Iowa had allowed the Golden Eagles 120 passing yards and 88 on the ground. The Hawkeyes, by comparison, collected 219 yards through the air and 116 rushing yards in the same amount of time.

The defensive line spent much of its time in the Tennessee Tech backfield, disrupting numerous plays even though Lamb was only sacked once.

“It will be on the list of things to teach,” Ferentz said. “Credit to our guys for getting some disruption in there, but you still have to finish the play.”

Still, the dual-threat Lamb was held to negative yardage on his seven official rushing attempts.

Morris’ interception was the unquestionable highlight of the linebacking corps’ day, but the rest of the group was just as solid. First-time starter Christian Kirksey tied Morris for the team lead with 10 tackles, and the unit as a whole accounted for 42 of Iowa’s 97 total takedowns.

“We kept together well,” Kirksey said. “Basically, they gave us the looks we had gotten in practice. We were prepared for a lot of things, and we did our thing — gave it all.”

The secondary was perhaps the area of greatest concern for Iowa fans during the off-season after superstars Brett Greenwood and Tyler Sash left for the NFL. The worry wasn’t helped by Micah Hyde changing positions in the backfield and Collin Sleeper — a walk-on junior who hadn’t appeared in a live football game since high school — earned the starting strong safety spot.

Shaun Prater’s 89-yard touchdown scamper after a third-quarter interception showed the back unit still has plenty of punch, however, and the one instance in which Iowa blew its coverage didn’t involve Sleeper at all.

By the end of the game, the Hawkeye defense had out-tackled the Golden Eagles, 97-64, and largely made a Tennessee Tech offense billed as the “fastest 60 minutes in football” look slow and ordinary.

But Morris said there’s still work to be done.

“We feel good, but we’ll have a better idea once we look at the film — we can compare the calls against how we actually played,” he said.

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