The safety had 13 tackles in Iowa's 40-20 win over Purdue. Chad Leistikow/HawkCentral
IOWA CITY, Ia. – This might be Iowa’s most physical secondary in Kirk Ferentz’s 17 years as head coach. And Jordan Lomax is the leading hit man.
Lomax has evoked memories of an almost mythical figure in Hawkeye history — Bob Sanders — with persistently punishing tackles during third-ranked Iowa’s 11-0 run.
The fifth-year senior free safety delivered a career-high 13 tackles in Saturday’s 40-20 win over Purdue. One of them was a walloping, fumble-forcing hit on freshman quarterback David Blough that not only created a turnover but knocked the Boilermakers’ starter from the game.
“It was a nice collision. I feel pretty good right now,” Lomax said after the helmet-to-helmet contact. “It felt good to get a nice hit in today.”
Lomax has assembled his own “hit list” of 2015. The Upper Marlboro, Md., product clocked Wisconsin tight end Troy Fumagalli on Oct. 3, a play that Badgers coach Paul Chryst thought should have been flagged for targeting. Fumagalli had briefly collected a deep-middle pass at the Iowa 5-yard line late in the third quarter, but Lomax’s hurtling velocity helped dislodge the football for an incompletion. Instead of first-and-goal, Wisconsin settled for its last three points in what wound up being a tone-setting, 10-6 Iowa victory at Camp Randall Stadium.
A week later, Lomax knocked out Illinois star receiver Geronimo Allison late in the fourth quarter — a clean, shoulder-led hit on an incomplete pass up the left sideline — as the Illini were trying to stage a late rally in what resulted in a 29-20 Iowa win.
Hard hits are contagious in the Iowa secondary. Cornerback Greg Mabin set the tone for the season with his lift-and-flatten smackdown of Illinois State 2,000-yard rusher Marshaun Coprich on the first handoff the Hawkeyes faced in 2015. First-year strong safety Miles Taylor (50 tackles) has been a consistent, physical presence. And also against Wisconsin, Iowa cornerback Desmond King’s hard, legal third-quarter tackle removed top receiver Alex Erickson from the game with a concussion.
Iowa's concept of “Bullies of the Big Ten” isn’t just for linemen.
“Coach (Phil) Parker and Coach (Seth) Wallace, they love the physicality of safeties,” Lomax said. “That’s the mentality they like bringing to our defense, that we’re a very physical defense. They harp on us each week to continue to keep hitting harder and harder.”
Safety can be a tough position at Iowa, but when the Hawkeyes have a good one, he sets the tone for the Hawkeye defense. Sanders started the trend, becoming one of the all-time greats at Iowa. His 348 tackles from 2000 to 2003 are the most in school history by a non-linebacker. He packed a heavy punch in a compact package: 5-foot-8, 202 pounds. Sanders of course went on to be named the NFL’s 2007 Defensive Player of the Year with the Indianapolis Colts.
Lomax, a little bigger than Sanders at 5-10, 205, might have a good case for No. 2 in the Ferentz era when it comes to safety physicality (176 career tackles). Jordan Bernstine packed a wallop, too, but he only had one full season of good health (89 tackles in 2011). Other hard-hitters back there have included Marcus Paschal (199 tackles from 2003 to 2006) and Brett Greenwood (229 stops from 2007 to 2010).
This week, the Hawkeyes’ secondary will have its hands full going against Nebraska’s passing offense, which ranks first in the Big Ten Conference at 272.7 yards per game behind quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr.
But with the Cornhuskers throwing the ball around a lot, that’ll also lead to opportunities for Lomax and the ball-hawking secondary. Proceed with caution, Big Red receivers.
“If I’m able to take a shot,” Lomax said, “I’ll take it. I pride myself on being physical.”
BLACK FRIDAY IN LINCOLN
Matchup: No. 3 Iowa (11-0, 7-0 Big Ten) at Nebraska (5-6, 3-4)
When, where: 2:30 p.m., Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
The line: Pick