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Iowa's 77th-rated defense seeks improvement

BY MATT COZZI | SEPTEMBER 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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In the last three years, Iowa has never finished lower than 25th nationally in total defense. It finished 12th in 2008, 10th in 2009, and then 25th in 2010.

Through the first four games of this season, the Hawkeyes' defense ranks 77th in the nation.

Quite the turnaround.

Against Iowa State and Pittsburgh alone, Iowa yielded almost 900 yards of total offense. In total, opponents have averaged 385.8 yards per contest.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz noted the defense's struggles on Tuesday but acknowledged Iowa has lessened the concern. Over the past five quarters, the Hawkeyes have given up 20 points.

"We aren't still tackling the way maybe we need to, but at least we're improving a little bit," Ferentz said. "The big thing two weeks ago was we gave up big plays … You name the three bad things on defense — don't tackle, don't contain, and give up big plays. A lot of times, they go together."

The Hawkeyes faced spread offenses in all four games, which has caused some problems both this season and in the past.

Senior linebacker Tyler Nielsen said the defense will need to improve, especially during Iowa's bye week. The Hawkeyes' next game is Oct. 8 at Penn State.

"If we take care some of the little things a bit better, I think we would have kept some points off the board," Nielsen said. "There have been some trick plays and fluke fumbled snaps that turned into touchdowns.

"This week gives us some time to kind of reflect a little bit and clean up and fine-tune some things. We need to focus on our keys and getting lined up right, and I think we'll be fine."

Iowa's defensive unit improved mightily last week against Louisiana-Monroe, when compared with the effort in the two prior games.

The Hawkeyes gave up 352 yards to Monroe — and only 53 of those came on the ground — in contrast to the Iowa State and Pittsburgh games, when Iowa conceded 473 and 422 yards, respectively.

Senior Jordan Bernstine, the player many have considered one of the more pleasant surprises for the Hawkeye defense this year, said the unit was more cohesive against Monroe than it was in Iowa's first three matchups.

The strong safety has 18 tackles thus far, sixth-most on the team, including one sack.

"We're starting to gel more; we're having fun out there," Bernstine said. "We got guys out there congratulating each other, smiling when they're making plays, and things like that. I think you really need that as a defense to kind of give you that spark and keep it going."

When asked if the current makeup of players can keep the trend of highly ranked defenses at Iowa, Bernstine didn't hesitate.

"I think any defense under Coach [Norm] Parker has the ability to be [a top-25 ranked defense]. We just have to go out and execute," he said. "We have the guys who can do it, so as long as we go out there and get the job done, I feel like we can be right up there."


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