Iowa Football

Iowa's defense has started another streak

This one is 21 straight games holding opponents to 25 points or fewer

Iowa defensive lineman Zach VanValkenburg (97) tackles Illinois running back Chase Brown during the second half of an NC
Iowa defensive lineman Zach VanValkenburg (97) tackles Illinois running back Chase Brown during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020, in Champaign, Ill. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Stat nerds love stuff like this, but it really does give you a peek at Iowa football’s DNA.

The Hawkeyes beat Illinois, 35-21, Saturday at Memorial Stadium. They rallied from a woeful start and 14-0 deficit to pick off a fifth-straight win.

You already know all that.

But perhaps you weren’t aware of the defensive streak going on with this team. No, not the interception thing because that ended a couple of weeks ago.

Iowa has played 21 consecutive games giving up 25 points or fewer to an opponent. Think about that for a minute.

This is a day and age of college football where you don’t huddle, you mostly play spread, and you score a ton of points. Unless you’re playing Iowa.

“Going back 22 years ago, that was one of our priorities: to be a good defensive team,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “Our first two building blocks were strength and conditioning and special teams. But, you know, I was raised, my dad is a baseball guy, and I think in any team sport, if you pay attention, if you play defense, at least you have a chance to be competitive and competitive consistently.”

Iowa is 16-5 in its last 21 games, the losses coming by one, two, four, five and seven points. So, yeah, that’s called being consistently competitive.

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This streak began with the Outback Bowl victory over Mississippi State in 2019, went through all 13 games last season and has stayed intact all seven games this season. The last time Iowa gave up more than 25 was to Nebraska in the 2018 regular-season finale, and the Hawkeyes still won, 31-28.

“From day one, we wanted to build a good defense here,” Ferentz said. “(Former defensive coordinator) Norm Parker was the architect behind that ... Then I can’t say enough about the job (current DC) Phil (Parker) has done since Norm retired. It’s the entire staff, it’s a real team effort with the staff.

“How we play offensively affects our defense, too. That’s important. All these things go together, the same with the kicking game. But, yeah, if I could pick one thing to be consistent with, it starts with defense.”

Iowa’s “streak” is the longest in the FBS. Marshall is next with eight consecutive games of holding teams to 25 points or fewer.

The Hawkeye defense wasn’t great the first quarter-plus against Illinois. The Illini scored a touchdown on their first possession, a 70-yard drive consisting of mostly runs.

Brandon Peters threw a TD pass to Josh Imatorbhebhe for a 14-0 Illinois lead just four plays into the second quarter. But Iowa regrouped.

“We had a slow start today,” said Iowa defensive end Chauncey Golston. “It’s something that we know that throughout a long season, some days aren’t as good as others. Some starts to a game aren’t as good as others. So you’ve got to flush what’s behind you, keep a good energy and keep going.”

Illinois’ offense went three-and-out on its final three possessions of the first half, with Iowa’s defense pinning the Illini deep in their own territory each time and giving the Hawkeyes offense really good field position it cashed in to make it a 14-13 game by halftime.

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Illinois didn’t reach midfield on its first three possessions of the second half, either, as Iowa took command of the game and forced Peters, who completed his first eight passes, to the bench in favor of Isaiah Williams, a running QB who led two drives: one that ended at the Iowa 12 and another against backups that produced a touchdown in the final 25 seconds.

“We really didn’t have any adjustments,” said Iowa defensive tackle Daviyon Nixon. “We just came together as a team and told ourselves that it was up to us to make a stand and to make a difference in this game. That’s what we decided to do. You can either fold, or you can fight. We continued to fight.”

Golston and linebacker Nick Niemann led Iowa with eight tackles each. Nixon had a tackle and a half for loss to add to his Big Ten Conference-leading total in that department.

Iowa finishes the regular season this week at home against Wisconsin (2:30 p.m., FS1 or BTN).

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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