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Iowa in for wake-up call if D doesn't improve

BY JORDAN GARRETSON | OCTOBER 24, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa defense needs to improve. Quickly.

It's simple, and it's not anything we didn't know a few weeks ago. But the need has become more glaringly obvious with each game — none of which have been against teams that are offensive juggernauts.

Oct. 22 was just the latest example. Sure, the Iowa offense put up big numbers yet again, and the Hawkeyes ultimately rolled to a 45-24 victory over Indiana. But the big numbers Iowa surrendered to the Hoosiers were troubling.

Indiana recorded 414 yards of offense, including 218 rushing.

This is a Hoosier team that entered the Oct. 22 game 10th in the Big Ten in total offense.

Second-to-last in rushing offense.

Second-to-last in scoring offense.

Yet, all too often, the Iowa defense couldn't get off the field.

 

Indiana put together five drives of nine-plus plays, four of which lasted for more than five minutes. The Hoosiers possessed the ball for 10:54 in the third quarter alone.

The need for improvement is no secret to members of the Hawkeye defense. They've been asked about it nearly every week, and each week, they're straight-forward about it. They know they have to get better.

Hell, defensive end Dominic Alvis almost sounded embarrassed when asked to assess the unit's performance against the Hoosiers.

"With all due respect to Indiana — they came out and played great — that's not the effort that we're looking for," said Alvis, a visible battle wound on his forehead representative of the uncharacteristic battering the Iowa defense has taken at times this season.

"We have a tradition here with the Hawkeye defense. We really didn't live up to it today."

The tradition, most recently, is Iowa ranking among the nation's top 25 in total defense six times in 10 seasons from 2001-2010, including each of the last three years.

Instead, Iowa currently allows 406.7 yards a game. That's ninth in the Big Ten and 79th in the 120-team Football Bowl Subdivision, meaning the Hawkeyes trail defensive stalwarts like Duke, Buffalo, and Hawaii.

That 406.7 average, if not improved, would be Iowa's worst since a 2000 season when the Hawkeyes surrendered 444.92 yards per game. Iowa finished 3-9 that year, in Kirk Ferentz's second season as coach.

Yikes.

Granted, the Hawkeyes are dealing with a rash of injuries: James Morris, Tyler Nielsen, Tom Nardo, and Anthony Hitchens are just a few of the players who have gone down. To be fair, Iowa is still 5-2 and controls its own destiny in the Big Ten Legends Division.

But as senior end Broderick Binns said, Iowa can't use its injuries as an excuse.

"The guys that played today, they practiced all week and knew the game plan," he said. "… We just have to play better."

And Iowa's success this season can be largely credited to its offense, which is averaging 34.3 points a game (fourth in the Big Ten) and is maybe the Hawkeyes' best since 2002.

Even more problematic is that the Hawkeyes still have games remaining against the second- and third-best scoring offenses in the Big Ten, Nebraska and Michigan. Even Michigan State and Purdue — which Iowa also still has to play — are averaging better than 28 points a game. So Iowa can't necessarily bank on simply out-scoring all of those teams.

The Hawkeyes are going to need to get more defensive stops.

Oh-so-simple yet oh-so-necessary.

"In some aspects we're improving, but it's not as a collective group," Alvis said. "When the offense improves like they did today — they showed up and did a great job — the defense needs to come along. All 22 guys that are playing just need to be ready to go."


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