Concerns? Why 10-0 is 'bittersweet' for Iowa's defense

Chad Leistikow

IOWA CITY, Ia. — OK, so … 10-0, that’s great.

Thirty-five points allowed ... that’s a concern.

No. 8 Iowa hung on for a 40-35 win Saturday night over visiting Minnesota before 70,585 fans at Kinnick Stadium. Hung on because the defense allowed a 75-yard drive in 45 seconds to force the recovery of a late onside kick.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling, especially with that last drive,” senior linebacker Cole Fisher said. “That’s not our M.O. We don’t get scored on in 40 seconds. That’s something to be disappointed about, but at the same time, 10-0 for the first time in school history, it’s got to put a smile on your face.”

So, was this Iowa defense exposed, or was it an off night?

The Gophers entered as the Big Ten Conference’s lowest-scoring offense. Yet the Hawkeyes gave up the most points they’ve allowed to any team this season.

Minnesota racked up 7.6 yards per play. Cornerback Desmond King explained that Iowa had breakdowns in “eye discipline.” That would mean losing the ball, in the form of quarterback Mitch Leidner’s fakes or with roaming wide-open receivers. Iowa got burned on one halfback pass for a touchdown, too.

“They just took their shots. Trick plays got us. They had a lot of big plays,” King said. “That’s rare that we messed up in the back end.”

Minnesota executed very well. Leidner was sacked only once, and the running game generated 100 more yards — 133 to 33 — than it did last week in a 28-14 loss at Ohio State. And for the first time this Big Ten season, Iowa didn’t force a turnover.

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“Our receivers have been really good the last three or four games at reception point, catching the football. And Mitch has done a good job of throwing catchable balls,” Gophers coach Tracy Claeys said. “The O-line, I thought, did a good job protecting them. We were able to control them up front a little bit better than Ohio State.”

Fisher, Iowa’s weak-side linebacker, found himself out of position a few times — a common theme for the Hawkeyes.

“The main thing is communication,” Fisher said. “That should be ideal every week, but it seemed to be a problem this week.”

Sunday is for strength and conditioning and film study. The Hawkeyes (10-0, 6-0 Big Ten) will have plenty of the latter as they get prepared for Saturday’s 11 a.m. home finale vs. Purdue.

“Starting tomorrow, (we’ll be) watching film,” middle linebacker Josey Jewell said, “getting through the plays and how we messed up and how we can clean it up.”