Iowa Football

State of Iowa's D-line and linebackers: The future is fun, but time of the attack of the knee braces

If Iowa can think big, it can starting thinking pig and then maybe it can think B1G, but it's not happening if the defense isn't dictating

(The Gazette)
(The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Iowa football assistant coaches on Tuesday opened the hood of the car and talked a little bit about the engine and what makes it go.

It’s always fascinating. If you listen, why Iowa does Iowa things is in there. You get a ton of personnel discussion. (OK, maybe not quite enough on wide receiver Oliver Martin for some of you, but it was discussed.)

Let’s start the defensive assistants story with something from right damn now.

“What are you guys going to do when Wisconsin lines up seven offensive linemen?”

This happened in maybe a half dozen short-yardage plays in the Hawkeyes’ 28-17 loss to the Badgers last season.

You know what’s coming up for the No. 19 Hawkeyes (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten). After this blissful week off, it’s the No. 18 Badgers (6-2, 3-2) at Camp Randall Stadium. So, let’s do look ahead.

Defensive line coach Kelvin Bell noted how seven offensive linemen adds gaps to the line of scrimmage, so you know more bodies will have to fill in behind the front four.

Can’t it just be a front four? Does this take maybe six D-linemen, matching size with size?

“If you can do it with your base defense on the field, that’d be ideal,” Bell said. “There’s less gymnastics with guys running on and off the field.”

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One other thing about Wisconsin: Linebackers coach Seth Wallace does expect senior middle linebacker Kristian Welch to be back. He suffered a stinger injury in the second half against Penn State and has yet to return.

“You would hope so, but I can’t say definitively,” Wallace said. “He’s improved each week, so we’re headed in the right direction.”

Against Purdue, redshirt freshman Dillon Doyle and true freshman Jack Campbell split reps. Last week at Northwestern, Doyle rode most of the way after an early mental error from Campbell.

“The plan going into the Northwestern game was to use them the way we did at Purdue,” Wallace said. “Jack had a little bit of a hiccup on the first play he took of the second series. At that point, I wasn’t going to mess around with where he was at stability-wise. We kept going with Dillon, but I think it’s been good for this team and good for the future.”

Wait, one more thing about Wisconsin: You remember how Iowa lost last season. On the game-winning drive, UW QB Alex Hornibrook hit wide receiver A.J. Taylor with outside linebacker Nick Niemann trying to cover him. The WR-LB thing bit and it was the go-ahead score. When Iowa loaded up to stop Wisconsin’s loaded up line of scrimmage, the Badgers caught good matchups against Iowa’s linebackers throughout the game.

“The biggest thing is recognizing the personnel across from you,” Wallace said. “You have to recognize what that does to you fundamentally and where your eyes need to be.”

You saw some of the same thing earlier this season, with Niemann being matched against Penn State wide receiver K.J. Hamler, who sprinted away from coverage for a 22-yard TD.

“We don’t need to ask too much out of that position as it relates to the personnel across from them,” Wallace said. “And then we’ve got to play really good, collective defense around them, knowing that is one of the hot spots to what we do defensively.”

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Yes, the Hawkeyes played nearly a full game of 4-2-5 with true freshman Dane Belton seeing 65 snaps at the cash position last week. No, don’t look for a whole bunch of 4-2-5 against the Badgers, the truck tire that will crush the squirrel if you let it.

“We’ll continue to use it as needed, but it is personnel related,” Wallace said. “ ... Obviously, against a Wisconsin, you’re probably not going to see it as much, but we’ll continue to use it for the rest of the season.”

Let’s just keep this whole thing focused on Wisconsin. It’s the biggest game of the year. In two weeks, the Hawkeyes can think big and then think pig (Floyd of Rosedale vs. the Gophers) and then think B1G.

Back to the gaps the Badgers’ offense hammers away on.

“The gaps that get added to the line of scrimmage, they’re not displaced gaps, they’re all right there in front of you,” Wallace said. “I think that’s the one thing we have to take care of, whether we take care of it schematically or personnel-wise, but at the end of the day, this game has always been about who can stop the run. ... We’ve got to commit ourselves to making sure that we take care of some of the deficiencies from last year’s game. And if you guys go back and look at it, there’s seven guys out there with knee braces on. That’s seven offensive linemen who are blocking or creating gaps. So, whether it’s personnel-related or scheme-related, it starts there and that’s going to be the challenge for us.”

What he said.

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

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