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Iowa Hawkeyes evaluate offense to move forward against Iowa State’s Big 12-best defense
Cyclones’ unique 3-3-5 is designed for spread offenses, but can adjust
IOWA CITY — Cast aside the two pick-6s from last Saturday, and Iowa still would’ve defeated Indiana, 20-6.
That’s lower than its average scoring output in the past seven games, where Iowa has outscored opponents 248-89, for an average of 35.4 points per game.
But last week’s game was against one of the best secondaries in the country, and most experienced. This week is still against an Iowa State defense that, since the second half of 2017, has made a name for itself in a different conference with spread offenses.
“Defensively, it’s a very unique preparation,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They've been playing good defense for quite a while in a conference that maybe that's not as common.”
Part of that involves Iowa State’s special “star” player, who operates as a linebacker or cornerback/defensive back in the center of its defense. It used to be redshirt senior Greg Eisworth, who is now a boundary defensive back, but is now redshirt sophomore Isheem Young, last year’s Big 12 Co-Defensive Freshman of the Year.
Iowa State runs a 3-3-5 defense to maximize its strengths: three defensive linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs. That star player is like a middle safety in pass coverage, which is instrumental against spread offenses in the Big 12, but can be just as effective against more-pro-style offenses.
“There's a lot of times when that star player is unaccounted for, so we can’t block them, and they do a really good job of filling hard and getting in there and trying to make things tough on our pass game,” Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras said. “Cover two or cover four looks different because I have an extra guy in the middle of the field that takes away certain things that could normally be a cover-two coverage or cover-four coverage, so in the pass game, it's about being aware of that star player and how that's going to affect how I have to make decisions.”
Iowa running back Tyler Goodson is bound to be a target of the Iowa State defense, too, and the Cyclones are used to competing against a high-caliber junior running back in Breece Hall during practice. Both Goodson and Hall are on the preseason Doak Walker Award watch list; Hall was last year’s runner-up.
Goodson commended Iowa State’s linebackers, which includes senior Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year Mike Rose, who finished last year with 96 tackles, but said as a running back, it’ll be a different style than he faced against Indiana last week.
“They don’t show a lot of pressure,” Goodson said. “I think the main focal point being ready for their defense is normal assignments and I have to be patient in the run game. My eyes have to be detailed in the pass game because they do bring bring blitzes from time to time, but it's not often, so I’ve got to make sure I'm locked in and reading my keys to make sure I know what's coming.”
Iowa featured three first-time starters on the offensive line last week: Mason Richman, Justin Britt and Nick DeJong. Junior left guard Cody Ince had started the final six games last season, while junior center Tyler Linderbaum was the only consistent two-year veteran starter. The expected timeline on senior right guard Kyler Schott’s return from injury has yet to be announced.
“I think it was a good start a good starting point, but we can play a lot better,” Linderbaum said. "They got all 11 guys running the ball trying to get to the tackler, they're a fast team, they're disciplined and they're going to put some challenges on us but we're going to be ready to go.“
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