Commentary: Hawkeye defense fades fast


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The Iowa football team’s formula for winning games was clear six games into the season: stay close using a surprisingly stout defense, and let a bumbling offense find a way to score late to take the lead.

It happened in the season-opener against Northern Illinois. It happened against Michigan State, and it almost happened against Iowa State.

Well, what now?

Iowa’s defense has collapsed in the last two weeks. Penn State picked it apart through the air on Oct. 20, and Northwestern played Road Runner to Iowa’s Wile E. Coyote in Ryan Field on Oct. 27.

The result has been a team completely unable to compete with Big Ten opponents. The Hawkeyes have scored a pair of late garbage-time touchdowns in each of their last two blowout losses.

According to that early season formula, Jordon Cotton’s kick return against Penn State or James Vandenberg’s one-yard plunge against Northwestern should have put Iowa right back in the game.
But the Hawkeye defense has joined the offense in a race to the bottom.

It was ranked second in the Big Ten four weeks ago. It’s in seventh today. Iowa allowed 564 rushing yards in the last two weeks, dropping to eighth in the conference in rushing defense. Quarterbacks Matt McGloin and Kain Colter knocked the team’s pass efficiency defense down to ninth in the conference.

McGloin found receivers downfield all game against a secondary that couldn’t cover them.

Northwestern quarterback Kain Colter sprinted out of the pocket all game and ran away from linebackers, who couldn’t tackle him.

“Eliminating big plays is one of our goals, because they make it hard to win,” linebacker James Morris said. “You can’t make those mistakes.”

It was clear almost immediately this season that James Vandenberg and the offense were going to struggle — that Morris and the defense would have to keep the team in games. It’s almost as clear now that they can’t do that against competent, well-coached quarterbacks.

A defensive line that had been a pleasant surprise has faded, getting almost no pressure in the last two weeks and failing to keep Colter in the pocket.

And that means the Hawkeyes don’t have anything they can rely on every week. The team’s last two opponents have played with quick tempo, hurrying to the line every play to keep the defense on its heels.

And Iowa can expect to see that the rest of the season, starting next week against an Indiana offense that is the Big Ten’s second best this season.

“They’re going to see what Northwestern did on us,” cornerback Micah Hyde said. “So we’ve got to be ready to stop it … It’s just preparation. We’ve got to come out stronger.”

The Hawkeyes need to improve in a lot of areas in order to find two more wins and make a bowl game. For half the season, it didn’t look like the defense was one of those areas.

It does now.

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