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IOWA CITY — As Iowa called Matt Hankins’ name during Saturday’s pregame Senior Day ceremony, the speedy cornerback wasn’t so speedy.
As his fellow seniors ran from the southwest tunnel to their parents, he had to walk.
He had his No. 8 jersey on, but sweats were underneath it instead of shoulder pads.
While Hankins was the only senior recognized not in uniform, he was certainly not the only key piece of the secondary unable to play.
Hankins and safety Jack Koerner started each of the Hawkeyes’ first 10 games in 2021. But both were unavailable Saturday.
Koerner was in uniform and able to run during the team’s Senior Day ceremony. He’ll “hopefully” be ready for the Nebraska game, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said.
“Jack tried to go,” Ferentz said. “He practiced yesterday. Limped around a little bit and tried to go today but just couldn't.”
Hankins, on the other hand, doesn’t have as promising of an outlook. He has “a ways to go” before coming back, Ferentz said.
That was in addition to fellow cornerback Terry Roberts’ lingering bone bruise that has sidelined him for the last four games.
“The one thing I've learned (about bone bruises) is they're hard to put a temperature gauge on,” Ferentz said. “So I think he's close. He seemed encouraged yesterday. But it would help to get him back.”
Until then, and with Riley Moss’ absence for much of October, other players in the secondary have needed to play larger roles.
Dane Belton is certainly not a new face to the secondary. He has started every game in 2020 and 2021, either at safety or at the cash position.
He has found more opportunities to produce, though, amid Iowa’s injury-plagued secondary in 2021.
He recorded his team-best fifth interception in Iowa’s 33-23 win over Illinois. Belton was already tied for the lead in the Big Ten for interceptions going into Saturday’s contest.
He didn’t have any interceptions in 2019 or 2020.
"Each year, I’m gaining experience,“ Belton said.
With that experience, he improved at recognizing “the route combinations that offenses try to beat us on,” Belton said.
Three of Belton’s five interceptions were in the last three games.
The secondary’s injury problem led to more playing time for defensive backs like cornerback Jermari Harris and safety Quinn Schulte.
Schulte, a former Cedar Rapids Xavier standout, played his first collegiate game with a significant number of snaps. Ferentz said he was “really proud of him” after the sophomore’s performance.
“He stepped in and allowed us to keep doing the things we want to do,” Ferentz said. “He played a lot of snaps today. Did a good job.”
Koerner’s absence also meant someone else had to handle the calls the senior usually makes.
Belton said a variety of players were making the calls instead during practice, so the group was prepared for Koerner’s absence.
“The whole week we were ready for this,” Belton said. “We just went out and played football together.”
The next-player-up mentality certainly wasn’t perfect. Illinois’ Brandon Peters had 248 passing yards, the most for him in a game since 2019.
A drive with fewer than two minutes to go where Peters racked up 85 passing yards in about a minute inflated those numbers.
Evaluating a secondary based on how it performs when leading by 17 with fewer than two minutes left has its shortcomings, though. Excluding that drive, Iowa’s numbers against Illinois’ aerial attack look more respectable.
Before that drive, Peters threw for 163 yards while completing about 42 percent of his passes.
Iowa also stifled a running attack that averages 152.3 yards per game, limiting the Illini to 63 rushing yards on 25 carries.
“Overall, the guys really did a good job defensively,” Ferentz said.
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