IOWA CITY — Lost in the offensive carnage the Iowa Hawkeyes laid Saturday afternoon was the performance by a defense that has been really, really solid through four games.
OK, perhaps that wasn’t necessarily “lost” in a 48-3 drubbing of Middle Tennessee at Kinnick Stadium. At least it shouldn’t have been.
Say more like overshadowed.
“Take pride in your work,” said defensive end A.J. Epenesa. “We are defenders, we play defense, and we prevent people from scoring. That’s what we do. Whenever we are able to successfully do that, it’s something you hang your hat on and be proud of.”
Iowa bottled up Middle Tennessee dual-threat quarterback Asher O’Hara, which basically rendered the Blue Raiders’ offense ineffective. O’Hara went into this game leading Middle Tennessee in passing AND rushing, averaging 329 yards combined in those departments.
But he had just 143 here. Middle Tennessee finished with 216 yards.
“We were trying to stop the quarterback,” said defensive tackle Cedrick Lattimore. “He’s a guy that likes to run around, so we tried to close that pocket. We kind of did that today. We got after him.”
An emphasis has been made by Iowa to get its interior defenders to be better at quarterback pressure, and they definitely were here. Tackles Lattimore and Daviyon Nixon each had sacks, with Nixon recording seven tackles, 2.5 for loss.
“Today, I thought we did get more pressure up the middle, and just getting to the quarterback a little bit more as a defense,” said Nixon, who made his second start. “It was just making our pass-rush moves, and just listening to (defensive line) Coach (Kelvin) Bell. Figuring out ways to get off blocks and get to the quarterback as quick as possible.”
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“They were really focusing on the ends in pass protection, and the D-tackles were able to get a lot more disruption than usual,” Epenesa said. “They’ve been working on that a lot. So whenever they’re starting to show up and starting to make plays like that, it’s big.”
Middle Tennessee never got closer to the end zone than the Iowa 24. That came in the third quarter, and the Blue Raiders had to eventually settle for a 43-yard field goal.
Just that close to a second shutout this season for Iowa. Rutgers had a zero in week 2.
The Hawkeyes have given up a grand total of 34 points in their four games. That’s not bad.
“We’re trying to hold everyone to the least amount of points possible,” said Iowa defensive end Chauncey Golston. “We are not going out there saying ‘Well, we want to hold them to three or under 10.’ If we can hold every team scoreless, that’s what we are trying to do.”
Iowa played its basic 4-3, by the way, almost the entire game against Middle Tennessee’s four-receiver set. The three linebackers were, as usual, Djimon Colbert at weakside, Kristian Welch in the middle and Nick Niemann at the leo.
Injuries in the secondary have prevented the Hawkeyes from playing nickel or dime very much.
Free safety Kaevon Merriweather missed his third straight game Saturday. Cornerbacks Julius Brents and Riley Moss still haven’t played.
D.J. Johnson got his second start at cornerback. He was supposed to be Iowa’s “cash.”
The couple of times the Hawkeyes did go with extra DBs, true freshmen Jermari Harris and Dane Belton were those extras. That was Harris’ second game, Belton’s first.
Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said postgame he thought Merriweather might be back next week against Michigan. Not that the secondary depletion has mattered so far.
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“We got after them a little bit today and made them uncomfortable,” Epenesa said. “I thought they tried to pass the ball a lot, and we were able to disrupt that a lot.”
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