116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Dane Belton said he’s been waiting a year and a half, catching bullets from the jug machines at practice to get that first interception.
Just before the end of the first half, the Iowa junior defensive back made a split-second choice to go after what he wanted, grabbing a bullet pass from Indiana’s Michael Penix Jr., tucking it into his arms before he fell to the ground.
The play went really fast, he said. The running back came out and he was trying to decide if he should go after the quarterback or stay in his coverage in the flat.
He had seen this play before, when Penix threw it and it went right over Belton’s head.
“I was telling the coaches and my teammates it’s coming low, I could really put my hand up and get it,” Belton said.
He was right.
“I felt like it wasn’t too hard, it was a quick plan, natural,” Belton said. “I bobbed it a little bit, it was coming hot, but I ended up securing it.”
Belton’s first career interception as a Hawkeye was overshadowed by the double pick-6 plays by cornerback Riley Moss in No. 18 Iowa’s 34-6 win over No. 17 Indiana Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, but Belton’s play, along with other almost-moments and even the subtle strengths of the defense are not to be ignored.
When the defense clicks, it clicks. Belton’s interception was also a byproduct of a quarterback hurry by Joe Evans. In fact, Iowa totaled six quarterback hurries, two from defensive end Zach VanValkenburg. The one sack of the day came from redshirt freshman Lukas Van Ness.
“Our DBs looked quick to the football and had good anticipation,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We’re veteran back there, so I’m not going to say we expected that, but a big part of it, too, is the guys up front getting pressure. It’s not always about the sacks.”
But starting from the front, Iowa played the defense Ferentz wanted. The young defensive line, which replaced three starters who departed for the NFL, limited Indiana starting running back Stephen Carr to 3 yards per carry for a total of 57 yards. Overall, Indiana had 77 yards rushing, including four backs and Penix, who amassed minus-7 yards on the ground.
“We wanted to take the run out and transition into stopping the pass game and I think we did a solid job,” Iowa defensive end John Waggoner said. “Even though they did throw some side stuff we weren’t expecting, our coaches were good with adjustments on the fly.”
Both Waggoner and Belton had 1.5 tackles for loss, which can be par for the course in an air-raid offense that throws the ball to receivers behind the line of scrimmage. But with players like Indiana receivers Ty Fryfogle and Miles Marshall, that offense normally works because they’re fast skill players.
It did look like Iowa was playing catch after awhile. Safety Matt Hankins grabbed an interception in the second half, but it was called back on an unnecessary roughness penalty Waggoner. The penalty, while a late hit, was more of a fault in Waggoner’s physics — the momentum was too much to stop.
Safety Kaevon Merriweather had his hands on a ball, but dropped it. Merriweather was credited with a pass breakup, which was one of five tallied by the defense. Moss added two pass breakups in addition to his two interceptions, while safety Jack Koerner also added two breakups.
In the end, Iowa’s defensive symphony can be summed up with a massive butt slap from linebacker Seth Benson to a defensive lineman.
They’ve got each other’s backs.