Iowa among Big Ten teams using run defense as foundation for success

Andrew Logue
Iowa defensive linemen Carl Davis, left, and Louis Trinca-Pasat pose for a photo during Iowa football media day on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014.

Statistics reflect attitude.

So it's not surprising to see a bare-knuckles league like the Big Ten slog its way to impressive defensive numbers, especially when it comes to stuffing an opponent's rushing attack.

"I think that's one of the starting points for any good defense," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said, "being able to slow the run down."

Most of Ferentz's contemporaries echo that sentiment. But does it ring true in an era of no-huddle, spread offenses?

Answer: Yes, it does.

The Hawkeyes, who were off this weekend and host Indiana at 11 a.m. next Saturday, are among five Big Ten teams who entered the weekend ranked among the top 21 nationally in rush defense.

Penn State was second, holding opponents to 60.2 rushing yards per game, followed by No. 4 Michigan State (78.3) No. 9 Wisconsin (86.3), No. 16 Iowa (93.2) and No. 21 Michigan (105.4).

"We believe if you can't stop the run, then you're going to have some major issues," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. "It's always a focal point for us and will remain that way."

Is this an outdated way of thinking?

Answer: Not when it comes to winning and losing.

According to NCAA records, pass completion percentages have risen from 47.2 in 1973 to 59.8 in 2013.

Scoring by teams is up from 21 points a game 40 years ago to nearly 30. But limiting what an offense gains on the ground is still vital.

Last season, teams that were among the top 10 in stopping the run posted a combined record of 100-34 (.746 winning percentage), and all of them were bowl-eligible.

Meanwhile, teams among the top 10 in passing yards allowed were a combined 84-45 (.651) with three (Florida Atlantic, Western Michigan and Florida) failing to have winning seasons.

And let's not forget the psychological impact.

"It's a bad feeling when you can't stop the run," Ferentz said. "Not only for the coaches, but I think everybody involved with the team.

"There's just kind of a sinking feeling when people run the ball right down your throat."

Defensive tackles Carl Davis and Louis Trinca-Pasat have Iowa standing firm.

The Hawkeyes are allowing just 2.9 yards per carry and have been mostly dominant, outside of a shaky first half at Pittsburgh.

"That's one thing we knew coming in this year … we would have good play up front," Ferentz said. "I think we've seen that from all four starters."

Can Iowa continue to smother ball carriers?

Answer: We'll find out against Indiana.

The Hoosiers entered Saturday's game against North Texas averaging 284.3 rushing yards per game, 12th-best in the country.

Junior tailback Tevin Coleman is netting 7.9 yards on 88 carries, with seven touchdowns.

While lots of people talk about innovative aerial schemes, schools such as Indiana can be equally creative.

"There are so many different ways people are running the ball now," Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. "It involves not just your defensive line, but your entire defense, your adjustments on defense and your style of play."

Northern Iowa turned David Johnson into more of a receiver when facing Iowa. Pittsburgh had success running James Conner in the first half but bogged down in the second.

The Hoosiers seem more likely to put Iowa's impressive statistics to the test.

"Part of it, quite honestly, is a by-product of the opponents we've played," Ferentz said. "We've played some teams that don't lean hard to the running game.

"As the year goes on, I expect those numbers to change a little bit."