'A tough kind of learning'

To prepare for Northwestern, Iowa went to the tape early and often

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IOWA CITY -- The Iowa defense watched the 2012 Northwestern video a lot this offseason. Like a lot a lot.

The play that immediately jumped into defensive tackle Carl Davis' mind was Wildcats running back Venric Mark cutting through Iowa's defense and going 72 yards from NU's 1-yard line.

"Yeah, that's one play I looked at. I looked at that one 10 or 12 times," Davis said. "I watched and asked what could I have done better? That play started with my leverage. I was a little bit too high. I don't think that'll happen again this year. I feel like I play with a different leverage now and I feel like I understand the game a little bit more."

The Hawkeyes (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) kept this video in the “what doesn’t kill you, should make you stronger” department. No, it wasn't easy to watch sometimes, but if they didn't want to relive that horror this year, they had to learn what they did wrong.

"That game was a real poster for that type of thing," free safety Tanner Miller said. "That's what we stressed in the offseason, eliminating those types of fundamental things. We feel like we've done better with that this year -- leveraging the ball, pursuit angles.

"We know that Northwestern, with the speed an elusiveness of its quarterback, that's what they pose. We have to take extra consideration with that this week."

How bad was this? Wildcats QB Kain Colter directed a 349-yard performance on the ground, the most rush yardage against the Hawkeyes since Indiana went for 433 in 2000, in a 28-17 victory.

Colter had a career-high 166 rushing yards and three TDs. Mark averaged 10.1 yards on 16 carries and finished with 162 yards.

"They outplayed us," linebacker James Morris said. "Guys finished blocks, their guys ran hard, hit the right hole. On the flip side, maybe we didn't leverage the ball like we needed to, maybe we didn't tackle like we needed to."

Colter missed the Cats' home loss last week against Minnesota, 20-17, with an ankle injury. Despite being listed day-to-day by coach Pat Fitzgerald, Colter said Tuesday that he will play against the Hawkeyes.

Colter would be a start for the Cats, who, during their current three-game losing streak, have been held to less than 100 yards rushing in all three games. That's their worst streak since 2009.

Mark, whose season has been marred by ankle injury, was early this week declared out for Saturday early this week. He'll be replaced by Mike Trumpy and Treyvon Green, with Stephen Buckley also getting carries. Green, a 5-10, 215-pound junior, leads NU with 463 yards and five TDs.

No matter who is at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, the Cats have Iowa's attention. They had it this summer and certainly it'll be there Saturday.

The whole point of going back to review the cold reality of Northwestern '12 was to raise football IQ.

“Really after a while, when you study guys, understand the game, it’s going to help what they’re trying to do,” defensive coordinator Phil Parker said this spring. “I think we need to do a better job of that, so they understand what plays they’re going to see instead of saying it’s a personnel issue or you’re not blitzing enough.

“To me it’s just about understanding the game.”

Iowa’s defense relies on leverage and players knowing their angle and where they have help. Too often last season against the Wildcats — who led 28-3 early in the third quarter — Iowa saw a defender or two lose leverage.

"Leverage, that's a huge thing," Miller said. "If you can keep the ball inside and in front of you, that's all you really need to know. That's going to eliminate 95 percent of big plays, keeping the ball inside and in front. That's a key fundamental thing coach talked about."

The Wildcats made four plays of 20-plus yards against the Hawkeyes, including a 47-yard TD pass from Colter to wide receiver Christian Jones, who has 26 catches and two TDs this year for the Wildcats. That particular play was one the Hawkeyes have seen go over their heads the last two games. Michigan State and Ohio State ran option fakes that pulled in the secondary and turned in to long TD passes.

"This is where you have to show you've learned from your mistakes," Miller said. "Things that have hurt us the last few weeks are going to show up and continue to show up. Teams are running this offense, including Michigan and Nebraska. Those type of plays will continue to show up until we prove we can stop it."

Iowa's defense has shown this season it has learned. Average yards allowed (319.28), average yards per play (4.79), points per game (19.28) and average number of plays run by the opponent's offense (66.7) are down from last season. Saturday is Iowa's chance to show it has learned team defense.

Then, maybe, the Hawkeyes can have a ceremonial burial of the '12 Northwestern video.

"That's a tough kind of learning, but that's what you've got to do to be a good team," Morris said. "If the team you played against runs for 300-plus yards on you, obviously you were doing something wrong. To find out what you're doing wrong, you've got to learn from that game."

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