Iowa Football

Dane Belton's emergence allows Iowa football to bring back cash

Freshman safety has stepped in against Purdue, Northwestern

Northwestern wide receiver Jace James (5) runs against Iowa Hawkeyes defensive backs Geno Stone (9) and Dane Belton (4) Saturday at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill. (Matt Marton/USA TODAY Sports)
Northwestern wide receiver Jace James (5) runs against Iowa Hawkeyes defensive backs Geno Stone (9) and Dane Belton (4) Saturday at Ryan Field in Evanston, Ill. (Matt Marton/USA TODAY Sports)

EVANSTON, Ill. — About a month ago, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz didn’t necessarily have the personnel to run the cash defense that the Hawkeyes mastered last season.

But the emergence of true freshman safety Dane Belton allowed Ferentz to use the cash defense almost exclusively along with nickel and dime defenses in Iowa’s 20-0 shutout of Northwestern on Saturday.

“We’re more comfortable with Dane Belton, six weeks ago versus right now,” Ferentz said. “He’s accelerating right now, and we’re developing a real trust and comfort level with him.”

The scheme centers around a 4-2-5, which takes one linebacker out in favor of a third safety. Belton has been that third safety for the Hawkeyes.

It’s the second game in a row that Belton has seen significant snaps. Against Purdue, he had a career-high six tackles. Saturday against Northwestern, he had five total tackles.

“He is an athletic guy. He’s not as big as (Amani) Hooker was,” senior and fellow defensive back Michael Ojemudia said. “But he can definitely tackle, and I think the biggest part about him is he’s a smart player, so I think he fits really well for that spot.”

Ojemudia described having Belton in as “a plus for everybody else on the defense.”

“He has a really good poise about him,” Ojemudia said. “A lot of people wouldn’t even know he’s a true freshman the way he’s playing out there. … With every game, he gets more confidence.”

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The cash defense essentially shut down the Wildcats’ already-questionable passing game. Northwestern junior quarterback Aidan Smith threw for 138 yards on 18-for-32 passing and had an interception.

It was the defense’s second shutout of 2019, which defensive lineman Chauncey Golston said was the team’s mindset since getting off the bus.

There was enough confidence in the defense that Ferentz could make more conservative playcalls. On a fourth-and-short situation, Ferentz took a delay of game penalty and sent the punt team out instead of trying to convert.

“You certainly can’t take your foot off the gas, but (the defensive success) certainly does alter your strategy,” Ferentz said.

Ferentz hasn’t always been able to employ the cash position considering the high injury toll to the secondary. Matt Hankins, Keavon Merriweather, Riley Moss and Julius Brents have all been hurt at some point this season.

While Merriweather is still out, Iowa can show more of the cash defense it started to implement after the 28-17 loss to Wisconsin last season.

Ferentz said the team’s implementation of the cash position relies heavily on the opponent. Teams like Northwestern and Purdue are not as well equipped to play against the extra safety as other conference foes.

“Every game you go with certain game plans,” Ferentz said.

Looking ahead, the cash might not be too feasible against No. 13 Wisconsin. The Badgers enter Saturday second in the Big Ten with 235 rushing yards per game.

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“Wisconsin looks a little different,” Ferentz said. “They’re a little different DNA.”

Either way, it looks like Belton appears to have a role in the team’s trip to Madison, Wis., after the bye week.

“Guys like Dane Belton have such a window (for future success),” Ferentz said. “Because with all due respect, they didn’t know anything 12 weeks ago, so now they’re starting to maybe gain some traction.”

“Going into that Wisconsin week, I think that’s going to be a big week for him,” Ojemudia said. “I think he’s going to be ready.”

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