IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa offense received a lot of criticism for its inconsistencies during the 2014 season. It wasn’t alone in carrying that tag.
The Hawkeye defense and special teams also experienced an up-and-down campaign. It was a recipe for mediocrity in a 7-6 finish.
Travis Perry was disappointed in the defene and special teams underperforming. He was on the field for a lot of it.
Iowa replaced three all-Big Ten level linebackers after the ’13 season. Perry, a junior, battled injuries in trying to help the unit hold it together without Christian Kirksey, Anthony Hitchens and James Morris.
Perry won the Reggie Roby Award as the Hawkeyes’ special teams player of the year last fall. The honor meant little to him when he remembered such breakdowns as allowing Nebraska punt returner De’Mornay Pierson-El roll up 134 yards on three tries, including a 80-yard touchdown in a 37-34 Husker victory.
"Special teams is one of the three main phases and I take that on my shoulders," Perry said. "I’m going to try to be a leader on special teams. So, when things aren’t going well, I take that personally. That’s something I have to help fix this year."
Iowa’s punt return defense ranked No. 121 among 125 FBS programs last year. It yielded 15.13 yards per return.
The poor punting game was magnified by opponents being able to run the ball on shorter fields. The Hawkeyes allowed 168.3 yards a game on the ground, 64th nationally, and 4.42 a carry.
Teams gashed Iowa on the edges with speed in ’14. Much of the blame was put at the feet of a linebacking corps that included a lot of youth with Perry and senior Quinton Alston the only upperclassmen seeing regular playing time.
"Being a linebacker, you’re trying to be a leader of this team, we take the blame on ourselves. That’s just kind of the way it is. If things don’t work out, we’re going to take the blame and that’s how we want it," Perry said.
"We want to be the leaders of this football team. We want to line the defensive line up and get the calls from the back-end and kind of run the defense. It falls on our shoulders."
Iowa exited spring drills with redshirt sophomores Bo Bower (WLB) and Josey Jewell (MLB), and Ben Niemann (LEO), a true sophomore, sitting atop the depth chart. Perry and fellow fifth-year senior, Cole Fisher, weren’t conceding anything to the current first-teamers, however. Redshirt freshman Aaron Mends was among a group of younger players at the position to make a move in the spring.
"We’ve been here for five years and we’re going to work hard to try to earn a (starting) spot. Everybody is. This is college football. No spot is guaranteed. We’re going to continue to work hard and push each other and continue to get better," Perry said of he and Fisher.
Perry said the linebackers have been watching a lot of film of last year to see what they could clean up and what they did well.
"Honestly, it was just little things (that hurt them)," the Urbandale (IA) High product said. "That’s both good and bad. Details are what wins football games. (Last) season didn’t turn out quite the way we wanted it to but the positive about that is they’re definitely things we can fix – little alignment adjustments and just little techniques we can switch up a little bit."
As difficult as last year ended with Iowa losing four of its last five games, it was still in the picture for a division championship with two games to play. The tough Nebraska defeat followed a 26-24 loss to eventual West champ Wisconsin.
"We had one of those games (Nebraska) where we had them at the end and the other one was two good football teams playing each other and those games easily could have gone either way. You look at the little things and you do a few more things better and we win those two games and we’re talking about last season a little bit better. So, the little things make a big difference and that’s kind of what we’re trying to change this year," Perry said.