WEST DES MOINES, Ia. – The Iowa guys tackling the other Iowa guys in Saturday's open practice played like they had something to prove.
That's because they did.
In their first public action since being humiliated by Tennessee in the Jan. 2 TaxSlayer Bowl, the Hawkeyes' defensive unit played aggressively and held the offense to zero touchdowns and one field goal in more than an hour of scrimmaging in front of thousands of Hawkeye fans searching for signs of optimism at Valley Stadium.
"We looked good today," defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson said.
Free safety Jordan Lomax led the way in delivering hard hits. Receivers were well-covered — and if they did catch the ball, they were tackled almost immediately. There weren't many missed tackles or big plays — both of which were prevalent three-plus months ago in Jacksonville, Fla., when Tennessee scored on its first four possessions and led 35-7 by halftime.
"I think people were really upset, especially us defensive guys," defensive end Drew Ott said. "We gave up a lot of points."
Drew Ott also remarks on the possible wrinkles with the Hawkeye defensive scheme.
There was hooting and hollering Saturday by defensive players. They cheered each other on as they successfully bottled up the C.J. Beathard-led first-team offense and the Tyler Wiegers-led second-teamers.
"Coming off of a bad loss, just being able to come out and play football with your teammates is always a good thing," Johnson said. "You make a play, you get excited. It's been a while since we've actually been out here together as a team."
Yes, there was more tempo. Yes, that was intentional. Yes, it had to do with the 45-28 loss to a younger, faster Tennessee.
Defensive coordinator Phil Parker has his guys approaching things with a new mentality, and it showed at Saturday's 60 percent mark of spring practice.
"Every time the ball is in the area, everybody needs to run to the ball to make sure you get there," third-year cornerback Desmond King said. "Just to keep the tempo going."
The third-year starting cornerback likes how the defense executed at Valley Stadium.
King admitted last year's veteran team, which underachieved with a 7-6 record, was "on and off" in maintaining that pace.
"We weren't consistent with it throughout the year," King said. "That's what we're trying to do this year, making sure we're fast-paced, moving, being ready for the next play right (away).
"If you practice it every day continuously, it should carry on to the games. That's what we're working on."
While the offense didn't score Saturday, the defense essentially did — backup linebacker Cole Fisher intercepted Wiegers on a short pass and would have taken it to the house if it were a real game.
Head coach Kirk Ferentz liked what he saw from his defense Saturday, but noted that Wednesday was a different story.
Still, he acknowledged, increased defensive tempo is a thing — a point of emphasis.
"With the first group, it was pretty good," Ferentz said. "We just have to keep working on that. That's not a habit at this point. We still have a lot to learn to get ingrained."