Shuffled secondary helps Hawkeyes beat Pitt


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Jordan Bernstine sat in a hotel room with strep throat in Ames on Sept. 10 and watched Iowa lose to Iowa State. The fifth-year senior said his temperature was 103 degrees.

His fever eventually cooled. But against Pittsburgh on Sept. 17, in the words of teammate Shaun Prater, Bernstine "brought a lot of fire" to the Hawkeye defense.

Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz shredded Iowa's secondary with 279 passing yards and four touchdowns. The Hawkeye coaching staff responded by making significant changes to the unit's starting lineup, and one of those moves was to insert Bernstine at strong safety in place of junior Collin Sleeper.

The move paid off — the Des Moines native recorded eight tackles — two for a loss — and provided aggressive run support in his first career start. On Pittsburgh's first possession of the game, Bernstine drew cheers from the Kinnick Stadium crowd when he stopped running back Ray Graham with a ferocious hit.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz singled out Bernstine for postgame praise for the second time this season, and his teammates said the energy he brings helps the whole defense. Prater, for example, called Bernstine a "major presence."

"I'm telling you, Bernstine's a freak," cornerback Micah Hyde said. "He's going to make plays. He's going to support the run. That guy's something else."

Bernstine's arrival wasn't the only change to the Hawkeye secondary.

After being named honorable mention all-Big Ten last season at cornerback, Hyde spent the off-season and the season's first two games playing free safety. But after junior cornerback Greg Castillo was repeatedly targeted by Jantz and the Cyclones, Hyde moved back to his old position to replace him.

Hyde has always maintained he feels just as comfortable at safety as at corner. But back at his old position, he intercepted his first two passes of the season — including one in the fourth quarter that sealed the win.

Ferentz admitted Hyde might be better off at cornerback.

"I guess you could make that argument," he said. "We didn't have a lot of choices in the spring. We felt we would get a look at [Hyde as a safety]."

Sophomore Tanner Miller filled the hole at free safety and recorded seven tackles.

The secondary shuffling wasn't a perfect solution. Iowa still allowed 285 yards through the air. Pittsburgh successfully targeted a gap down the right sideline between Miller and Prater numerous times, including for touchdown plays of 66 and 30 yards.

But Bernstine and Hyde were significant difference-makers for the Hawkeyes. And while the pass defense allowed Jantz to thrive late in last week's game, it tightened up and shut down Pittsburgh's offense in the fourth quarter.

Prater said the lineup changes were beneficial and praised his teammates' versatility.

"It definitely helped out," he said. "In football, you always have to make changes. Micah can play either safety or corner. Same with Bernstine."

Hyde suggested an even wider range of possibilities.

"Next week, I could be back at free safety, or I could be on the D-line," he said. "It doesn't matter. I don't know what they plan on doing, but they're coaches for a reason."

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