Iowa's D-line keeps pressure on Northwestern
Dan Persa faked a handoff and scrambled left. He scrambled right. He scrambled backwards.
That's when Iowa defensive end Broderick Binns grabbed the Northwestern quarterback's ankle, holding him in place until tackle Steve Bigach arrived to drill him as he fluttered the ball toward the end zone.
The pass was intercepted, and the points from the resulting 98-yard pick-6 proved to be vital to Iowa's 41-31 win over Northwestern on Oct. 15.
And while safety Tanner Miller was credited with the touchdown, the play wouldn't have been possible without the stout pressure from Iowa's defensive line.
"It should have been a sack, but elusive Persa kind of got away from me," Binns said and laughed. "…
We did a good job of containing [Persa and backup Kain Colter]. They're both great players, and of course, they're going to get out and get a couple yards here and there, but overall, we did a fine job containing and staying home — not just running upfield; we stayed home."
The result was Iowa's (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) first win over Northwestern (2-4, 0-3) in four seasons.
But it wasn't easy, especially for the defense.
First came the pregame announcements that middle linebacker James Morris and defensive tackle Tom Nardo would miss the game because of injuries. That forced Bigach and linebacker Tom Donatell into their first career starts and pushed linebacker Tyler Nielsen from the outside to Morris' spot in the middle.
Then there was the Wildcats' uncanny ability to convert third-down opportunities; Northwestern was successful on 16 of 22 tries. That helped Persa and Company hold the ball for 38:23 of game time, forcing the beaten-up Hawkeye defense to remain on the field for 92 plays.
That might have spelled trouble for last year's edition of the defense, which was much-maligned for its perceived lack of desire and conditioning late in games.
But the 2011 Hawkeyes didn't seem to have any of those problems — especially the defensive line, which was excellent.
"I really thought our guys worked hard up front," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "I thought they were really digging hard in there and forcing some pressure — pretty good for the most part with [quarterback] contain, which is, again, a tougher task than it looks from the sideline … We had a lot of guys jump in and help out, and it was good to see.
Binns played like a man possessed, finishing with a sack, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and three quarterback hurries.
Mike Daniels had seven tackles, including a 9-yard takedown of Persa early in the second quarter and two tackles for loss.
But those two have been established players for a while, a luxury Bigach didn't have. It didn't matter. The junior from Cleveland harassed Persa all night long, smacking him on the interception throw, slamming him into the Kinnick turf for a second-quarter sack, and swallowing up his fumble in the fourth quarter to help end Northwestern's comeback attempt.
"It's a dream come true, playing Big Ten football and getting my first start — did you see Kinnick tonight? It was awesome," he said, grinning. "It was a pretty good deal, but you never know what play is going to be big. You keep your head down, you work hard, and fortunately we had some big ones tonight."
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