Iowa Football

Iowa's secondary sort of rolling with the punches, not freaking out

Hawkeyes are sweating out a few injuries, but it looks like safety Geno Stone will be OK

IOWA CITY — When Geno Stone left the game in the fourth quarter with what looked like a non-contact leg injury, of course you were allowed to freak out.

Just before Saturday’s game against Rutgers, Iowa announced that free safety Kaevon Merriweather would be out with a foot injury. He sprained it in the last 10 minutes of Friday’s practice.

So yeah, it was just fine to freak out after Stone went down and didn’t bounce back up.

“Yeah, we do freak out a little bit because that’s one of our leaders on this team,” cornerback Michael Ojemudia said. “When he was walking, he looked a little better. Geno does that sometimes. He’s definitely a leader on our team.”

OK, unfreak out now. Stone wanted to go back into the game. The Iowa staff had had enough of fate in the Hawkeyes’ 30-0 victory in their Big Ten opener.

“It was just a little tweak. I’ll get treatment, I’ll get checked on and see later in the week,” Stone said. “It was a non-contact thing. I felt fine.”

So, Iowa played two new defensive backs in week 1 with Merriweather and cash safety D.J. Johnson seeing their first real action as Hawkeyes. This week, sophomore walk-on Jack Koerner took over for Merriweather.

It was another week of newness for Iowa’s secondary.

“I felt we had a better preparation this week,” Stone said. “I think he did a good job out there. We communicated well. We were in the same defense most of the time, but I thought we communicated well across the board.”

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Koerner found out he would make his first start Friday night at The Hotel at Kirkwood Center in Cedar Rapids.

“Probably a good thing,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Didn’t have any time to think about it, basically.”

Koerner’s last start was his senior year at West Des Moines Dowling in 2016. The short notice was OK. No one on Iowa’s defense had a lot to do. The Hawkeyes held Rutgers to 125 total yards and just 41 yards passing.

Koerner said the nerves went away after the first drive. He also illustrated why it’s OK to freak out when Stone is down on the turf. When Stone did leave in the fourth quarter, the safeties were Koerner and fifth-year senior walk-on John Milani.

“He’s a big control on our defense,” Koerner said. “He helped me out, linebackers, corners and everything. He’s a huge part of our defense and getting everyone to do the right thing.”

Last week in its opener against UMass, Rutgers put up 17 plays of 10-plus yards. Saturday it was just three.

“The biggest thing this week from week 1 to week 2 was being able to improve and communication was definitely something we wanted to get to,” linebacker Kristian Welch said. “I’m proud of the way we communicated today.”

The numbers did a lot of talking, too.

Rutgers didn’t convert a third down after the first quarter. The Hawkeyes piled up eight three-and-outs. Ojemudia and linebacker Djimon Colbert had interceptions.

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Saturday’s results belie the fact that Iowa is down a few players in the secondary. Beyond Merriweather, reserve corners Riley Moss and Julius Brents will be out for extended periods of time.

“Kudos to Jack, he had a really confident game, he was confident in his calls,” Ojemudia said. “This game gave us a lot of confidence. This was good to have before Iowa State. We have momentum going into that game.”

Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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