Iowa Football

Iowa's defense starting to nickel and dime its opponents

Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Julius Brents (20) intercepts a pass intended for Minnesota Golden Gophers wide receiver Seth Green (17) during the fourth quarter of their Big Ten Conference college football game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. Iowa won 48-31.(Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes defensive back Julius Brents (20) intercepts a pass intended for Minnesota Golden Gophers wide receiver Seth Green (17) during the fourth quarter of their Big Ten Conference college football game at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. Iowa won 48-31.(Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Iowa football and defensive sub packages go together like oil and water. Like the desert and hurricanes.

Like Aunt Peg’s ham loaf and your diet.

The Hawkeyes just don’t prefer to go away from their base very often. It’s four linemen, three linebackers, two cornerbacks, two safeties, and that’s it.

But Iowa’s reputation of inflexibility took a hit last Saturday against Minnesota, as it played a lot of nickel and some dime defense. You’d have to believe it will do the same Saturday versus Indiana.

With other opponents coming up on the schedule also being more spread offensively, sub packages might become more the norm. Crazy talk, huh?

“I just think we have the personnel to do it now,” said Iowa’s Amani Hooker. “We have guys on the back end who can play different positions. Like Geno Stone. He can be there at outside linebacker as well. Or you might see (Michael) Ojemudia down there, too. We just have a lot of guys who can play different positions. I think that gives Coach (Phil) Parker kind of a versatile feel (for what to call).”

In the nickel, defensive coordinator Phil Parker moved Hooker from strong safety to play man defense a lot against Minnesota’s slot receiver. Stone went to Hooker’s spot, with a linebacker coming out.

Free safety Jake Gervase and true freshman corner Riley Moss led Iowa’s defense with 69 snaps each against the Gophers. Hooker was next at 68, followed by true freshman cornerback Julius Brents (66). Stone had 57.

Linebacker-wise, Djimon Colbert led the way with 61 snaps, followed by Amani Jones (36), Jack Hockaday (25), Barrington Wade (16) and Kristian Welch (8). Hockaday was injured in the first half, while Jones was ejected with a minute left for a targeting penalty.

“You just try to get your best 11 guys on the field at all times, plus you play situation,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. “So it’s kind of a little bit of a mix of both. The fact that Geno has been playing pretty well and doing some good things on special teams, he’s played well on defense when called upon, we felt like that gave us an option.”

Iowa has been really banged up defensively, as Hockaday, Nick Niemann and Kristian Welch have missed time with injury at linebacker, as have Ojemudia and Matt Hankins at corner. Hockaday and Niemann are out against Indiana.

This week’s starting linebacker group is listed as Welch in the middle, Colbert on the weakside and Barrington Wade outside. That’s in the base 4-3.

Moss and Brents are listed as the starting corners, though Ferentz said Ojemudia and Hankins are getting healthier. The starters there are unknown.

“Both of those freshman corners, they play hard,” defensive end Parker Hesse said of Moss and Brents, who combined for three interceptions against Minnesota. “That’s what I respect most in someone. That’s someone who’s fun to play with. Both of those guys are heads-up football players for not having much experience, for just getting here a couple of months ago. It’s going to be exciting to continue to watch them grow as the season goes on.”

As they grow, and guys like Niemann, who is good in pass coverage, get healthy, it would seem to give Iowa’s nickel and dime defenses even more teeth. That is if they are called upon.

“I think we’re in a good situation right now,” Ferentz said. “When we get Nick back in there, I think at least we feel confident in Nick, and I think we’re gaining confidence in Barrington, and we’re gaining confidence in Geno, too.

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“So it gives you a little option, in terms of what you want to do when you play teams that play with one tight end and three receivers or more than three receivers. I think the more versatile you can be, the better off you are. But that’s something we haven’t done a lot of, quite frankly.”

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

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