IOWA CITY — One Hawkeye football storyline that has bloomed in the last year is what the defense does with personnel packages.
Last year after Wisconsin, the Hawkeyes shifted from a 4-3 defense with three linebackers and four defensive backs to a 4-2-5 with two linebackers and five defensive backs. It worked, and Amani Hooker, the “cash” extra defensive back did it so well that he won Big Ten defensive back of the year and then left a year early for the NFL. He’s now a Tennessee Titan.
Defensive coordinator Phil Parker has mostly stuck with the 4-3 base defense this season. Yes, part of it is what No. 19 Iowa (2-0) has seen from opponents. Generally, a tight end will call for the outside linebacker and not the cash safety.
But going into this week’s Cy-Hawk nuttiness against Iowa State (1-0), head coach Kirk Ferentz said there’s another reason why not a lot of cash sub package.
“As much as any, we’re just getting a little thin right now in the back end,” Ferentz said. “I mentioned their two deep, how veteran their two deep is. There are some names in our two deep right now that you’d have to get out your program to figure out who’s who. So, we’re a little thin back there.”
— After week 1, the Hawkeyes found themselves down both reserve corners. Before Miami (Ohio), Ferentz announced that sophomore Julius Brents would miss time with a leg injury. He hasn’t returned to the lineup. During the Miami game, fellow sophomore corner Riley Moss suffered what looked like a sprained knee. He is out four to six weeks.
They started five games for the Hawkeyes last year. Redshirt freshmen D.J. Johnson and Terry Roberts are the backup corners right now. Johnson also is Iowa’s cash safety.
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— In the second half last week, corner Matt Hankins left the game and had ice bags on a hamstring. Ferentz was asked if Hankins is in this week.
“Yeah, we’ve got a couple of guys that are hurt right now, like every week,” he said. “We’ll just ride it out and see where it goes.”
Not the most direct answer.
— Kaevon Merriweather and Jack Koerner had a camp battle over free safety. Merriweather won and started week 1. Late in Friday’s practice before last week’s Rutgers game, he suffered a sprained foot. Merriweather missed last week and is out again this week.
Now, Ferentz is happy they had a camp battle.
“That’s the reason everybody needs to take ownership, and that’s, I think, one of the big challenges in football, quite frankly,” Ferentz said. “When you’re a backup, a lot of times backup players will fall guilty of, ‘Hey, you know, I’ll be OK.’ Or ‘if I have to play it on the road, that’s when I’ll really crank it up and get ready.’
“It’s a bad mentality. It’s just a loser’s mentality. You can’t do that. It hurts the team if guys are thinking that way, and certainly Jack didn’t take that approach.”
Koerner played 44 snaps last week. Rutgers wasn’t able to attack Iowa the way Iowa State will.
Senior corner Michael Ojemudia is the senior leader-type guy in Iowa’s secondary. He has been one of Iowa’s captains the first two weeks and is the lone senior who sees regular playing time.
How is he dealing with the conveyor belt of new faces going into a big-game, hostile environment?
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“It’s just building their confidence up when they’re young,” said Ojemudia, who is tied for the Big Ten lead with two interceptions. “When they get in there, they might be nervous or whatever, but just giving the trust to them, leading them by example, it’s the best way to do it as a senior.”
So, Iowa will go into Cy-Hawk with a thin secondary. It’s still Iowa State week.
The Hawkeyes talked a ton about contain with quarterback Brock Purdy’s feet and with how Iowa State runs its RPO game. When a QB breaks pocket and runs, the Iowa defense then looks at the QB the way it looks at a running back.
“You always want to try to get a hit on the QB if you can,” linebacker Nick Niemann said. “You want to rattle him a little bit if you can.”
Sometimes during Cy-Hawk week, bulletin board material will seep out of where the players hang out in the complex and into the general public areas. This was a particular phenomenon at the old Jacobson Building. You’d see something someone Iowa State said posted somewhere.
The Hansen Performance Center did not show a single splash of cardinal on Tuesday. No incendiary quotes posted around, at least not in the public areas.
But it’s still Cy-Hawk week.
“Like coach Ferentz said in our team meeting earlier, ‘Just shutting up a team at their house is the best feeling,’” Ojemudia said. “That’s the attitude we’re going into the stadium with.”
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