Tinkering, experience behind Iowa's defensive improvement

Rick Brown

Defenders like Nate Meier (34) will try to slow down Indiana running back Tevin Coleman

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on the Jake Rudock-C.J. Beathard quarterback debate.

While all that hot air rivals the mind-numbing political ads we've being bombarded with of late, one guy has quietly gone about his business. Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker has developed a defense that has gotten better with each game.

It took some tinkering and trial by fire, Parker will tell you, but he feels he's got the pieces in place to stop people consistently. Maybe it was moving linebackers Bo Bower to the outside and Josey Jewell to the inside. Maybe it was moving linebacker Travis Perry to the weak side.

Maybe it was making Greg Mabin the starter at left cornerback and watching him improve game-by-game. Or getting Nate Meier extended minutes at defensive end. Or developing depth through game experience. Twenty-nine defenders made the trip to Iowa's last game, at Purdue. Twenty-four of them played.

"I guess as a coach you're always trying to improve," Parker said.

That improvement comes through experience, and learning from mistakes. If something works against you, you'll see it again.

"Everybody's a copycat," Parker said.

Iowa is 15th nationally in total defense, allowing 310.4 yards a game. After allowing Northern Iowa 405 yards of total offense in the opener, the last four opponents have averaged 286.8.

The adjustments at linebacker, and better communication between those linebackers and the secondary, is where this defense has improved the most.

"There is so much stuff you have to know as linebackers and safeties, and always being on the same page just takes time," Parker said.

Coming off a bye week, the Rudock-Beathard talk will get the most attention leading into Saturday's 11 a.m. homecoming game with Indiana, Iowa's only game at Kinnick Stadium in the month of October.

But the real key will be the defense, and how Iowa handles a new-look Indiana offense. The Hoosiers have been an air-first offense for years. Over the past six meetings with Iowa, Indiana has passed for an average of 260.8 yards a game to just 103.7 on the ground.

But this season, the Hoosiers come to Kinnick eighth nationally is rushing offense at 300 yards a game.

Iowa is seventh nationally in rush defense, allowing 93.2 yards a game. Indiana is averaging 6.07 yards per carry. The Hawkeyes are allowing 2.93 yards per carry.

Indiana's Tevin Coleman is the nation's second-leading rusher at 168.2 yards a game. He's gained at least 122 yards in every game and needs 159 more to reach 1,000 for the season. In the last six Iowa-Indiana games, no Hoosier has gained more than 84 yards.

Coleman will be the second top 10 rusher Iowa defenders have faced this season. Pittsburgh's James Conner, currently fifth nationally at 145.7 yards, had 155 yards in 29 carries against Iowa last month at Heinz Field. Just 45 of those yards came in the second half, as Iowa's defensive front led by tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat wore down the Panthers.

There's a lot of ground-and-pound on the menu the rest of the way, starting with Coleman on Saturday.

Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon leads the nation in rushing at 174.2 yards a game. Nebraska'a Ameer Abdullah is fourth at 146.3. And Minnesota's David Cobb is sixth at 144.4.

Stopping the rush is the strength of this Iowa defense. And with Parker doing his thing, in the shadow of the more popular topics off the day, that defense will only get better.