By Rob Howe
IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa Defense has not looked like the Iowa defense at times this season. It’s experienced growing pains.
It’s not reason for panic. The Hawkeyes rank 18th nationally in scoring defense, allowing 12.3 points per game. They’re 40th against the run (3.5 YPC) and 17th in passing efficiency defense.
The bar is high around here, though. We notice a perceived lack of a pass rush and when opponents hit on chunk plays.
The Hawkeyes think the errors are correctible. It’s partly due to a lack of communication, which they’re working on.
“That’s usually how our defense works,” linebacker Jay Higgins said. “It’s a puzzle. If one piece is out, the whole picture is messed up.”
The Hawkeyes know the pieces fit. It’s a matter of putting them together in pursuit of reaching its defensive ceiling in Big Ten play. That begins Saturday at No. 7 Penn State (6:30 p.m. CT, CBS).
“We’ve got some first-year starters out there. This is my first time being in that situation. So, I’m proud of my guys. I’m proud with how we’ve handled ourselves,” Higgins said.
Teams are scoring one touchdown a game against Iowa this season. Most programs would sign up for that type of production. The Hawkeyes are chasing near perfection.
“That’s the game, trying to be perfect every play knowing that you probably will never be perfect,” Iowa Cash Sebastian Castro said. “You saw it on Saturday. There were slip-ups here and there. On this defense, we want to be as good as we can be and not have those slip-ups.”
The Hawkeyes fell behind early during a 41-10 victory against visiting Western Michigan last week. A breakdown in the secondary allowed the Broncos to hit on a 64-yard touchdown pass. They added a 20-plus yard run and another 40-plus yard pass.
For the season, Iowa has given up two other explosive plays in the passing game. Utah State connected on completions of 39 and 26 yards.
The Hawkeyes didn’t yield a run of 20 plus yards until playing Michigan in Game 5 of last year. They didn’t allow a pass play of over 40 yards until Game 7 at Ohio State. Non-conference foes accounted for no runs of more than 19 yards or any passes greater than 29 yards in ’22.
Iowa has chalked up its inconsistencies in rushing the quarterback to the offensive approach of its opponents to date. Utah State and Iowa State got the ball out quickly. Western Michigan used two signal callers, both of whom were mobile.
The Nittany Lions’ Drew Allar is the most gifted signal caller Iowa will have seen this season. Likewise, the Hawkeyes will be the best defense he’s faced.
Penn State has recorded seven passing plays and two running plays of 20 or more yards in ’23. It has not turned the ball over this season.
That’s something the Hawkeyes would like to change.
“Obviously, it’s going to be a hostile environment. Our biggest focus is making sure we stay on the same page. No matter what happens, making sure we keep our anxiety low, tensions low, and just keep doing what we do. Play Iowa football,” Higgins said.
That includes limiting big plays.
“I can vouch for any guy around here. When they make a mistake, they know what their mistake was. They bounce back. We have complete trust in our guys,” Castro said.