IOWA CITY, Ia. – How in the world did Iowa win its first two football games?
Against Northern Iowa, the Hawkeyes gave up 380 passing yards, including eight plays of 20 or more yards. A week later, Ball State converted two turnovers into 10 points and owned a 13-3 lead with less than 5 minutes remaining.
So, why is Iowa 2-0 heading into Saturday's 2:30 p.m. showdown against rival Iowa State?
The answer starts with two guys: Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat.
Whenever the Hawkeyes' defense has been shoved to the brink, their defensive tackles push back.
And their teammates feed off that.
"Those guys know we can step up," Davis said. "It's not going to be easy getting yards up the middle.
"We take a lot of pride in that."
Davis and Tinca-Pasat are a primary reason Iowa has given up a total of 115 rushing yards in 120 minutes of competition.
Ball carriers are averaging just 1.9 yards per attempt.
"Right now, we're a little more veteran up front," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Those things come and go, but hopefully you're good somewhere and have something to hang your hat on.
"I think that's helped us a little bit, for sure."
The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Davis, who could be a first-round NFL draft pick next spring, has 10 tackles this season and made the clinching fumble recovery against Ball State.
Trinca-Pasat, who stands 6-3, 290 pounds, is tied for the team lead with 18 tackles – sharing the top spot with safety Jordan Lomax – including four for losses.
While a lot is made about Iowa's lack of a running game, it's easy to forget opponents aren't gaining much traction, either.
Northern Iowa tailback David Johnson ripped through the Hawkeyes' back seven, catching five passes for 203 yards.
But he managed just 34 yards on the ground.
Reducing Johnson to a one-dimensional threat helped Iowa hold the ball nearly 6½ minutes longer than the Panthers and out-gain them 104 yards to 31 in the fourth quarter.
Ball State wore down as well, as Iowa outgained the Cardinals 182 yards to 45 in the final 15 minutes.
In other words, opponents landed an occasional haymaker but never sustained the sort of steady jab that would have knocked the Hawkeyes out of contention.
Davis and Trinca-Pasat also eased the burden on three new starting linebackers.
"If we can get pressure in the gaps and push guys back, it's going to make it a lot easier for our linebackers to get their reads," Davis said. "Eventually, somebody is going to come up and fill that gap."
Defending Iowa State will be trickier.
Aaron Wimberly and DeVondrick Nealy will be the speediest tandem Iowa has faced.
"Both those guys are very quick, very dangerous and very explosive players," Ferentz said. "Then you factor in the quarterback (Sam Richardson) runs and it's not an easy task."
Plus, Cyclone wide receiver Jarvis West accounted for three touchdowns last week against Kansas State.
It's defensive coordinator Phil Parker's job to come up with a scheme that will slow the Cyclones down.
The dependability of Davis and Trinca-Pasat gives him flexibility.
"Coach Parker always stresses as long as everyone does their own individual job, the defense is going to be great as a whole," cornerback Greg Mabin said. "We're probably going to try and throw some different looks at them, keep them on their toes."