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Hawkeye defensive line rips through low expectations

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | SEPTEMBER 20, 2012 6:30 AM

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Joe Gaglione saw all the chatter. He couldn’t help it.

“It was very evident,” he said on Tuesday. “Everywhere you looked, people were talking about us — the D-line — as a weak link.”

There’s less of that now.

The Hawkeye defensive line has stepped up in a big way this season, outperforming those low expectations and helping Iowa’s defense vault into the top 25 nationally. The line contained Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz, preventing him from scrambling out of the pocket and making the plays he made against Iowa in 2011.

Much of the work the line has done won’t show up in a stat sheet, but there is some numerical evidence: The line has accounted for 10 tackles for loss this season. Gaglione leads the way with a Big Ten-best 5.5, and he’s also made two sacks and forced a pair of fumbles.

The senior spent most of the past three seasons riding the bench. He played sparingly in 10 games last season, making seven tackles. But entering this season, the Hawkeyes were relying on the Novelty, Ohio, native to be their top pass-rusher.

That summed up the unit’s uncertainty.

“That group was probably as young as any,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “You think about the two seniors playing right now, Joe [Gaglione] and Steve [Bigach], and neither one of them really have a lot of starting experience.”

But so far this season, that hasn’t mattered much. Gaglione came up with a huge sack and forced fumble deep in Northern Illinois territory on Sept. 1. He said on Tuesday it was his best play so far this season.

“I’ve always known [I] could do that; I wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t,” he said. “And I know as a unit we all thought we could do this too. But I know we all really wanted to prove it. We all read all that stuff, and we took it upon ourselves.”

Gaglione said before the team’s first open scrimmage in August he, Bigach, and junior Dominic Alvis talked about rallying the younger linemen and ending all that weak-link talk.

During that scrimmage, sophomore tackle Carl Davis wreaked havoc on the Iowa offense, and younger tackles Darian Cooper and Louis Trinca-Pasat impressed coaches as well. It turned out to be a sign of things to come.

“We are making progress, and we have a lot of young guys,” Ferentz said. “Louis Trinca-Pasat, you don’t hear much about him, he’s been doing a lot of grunt work and working hard. Cooper … is not the biggest guy in the world but he’s doing some good things in there. Carl Davis is improving, gaining confidence, starting to feel his way around a little bit.”

Fullback Brad Rogers, who blocks the linemen every day in practice, he said he can see many of the younger players learn pass-rushing technique every day.

“They’re all learning from their senior leaders and getting better every day,” he said. “They’ve done pretty well in practice.”

Gaglione said the line still has improving to do. That was clear when Northern Iowa quarterback Sawyer Kollmorgen often had plenty of time in the pocket to get comfortable and throw.

But the unit has shown it isn’t the painful liability many expected it to be.

“We all just really wanted to go out there and show everybody what we could do,” Gaglione said. “We’ve done that, but we still have a lot of work to do.”


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