Hawkeye defense hunkers down from Week 1 for Cy-Hawk rout
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Minutes after Iowa trotted into Kinnick Stadium’s tunnel with the Cy-Hawk trophy to massive cheers, Jaleel Johnson sternly considered the final score.
The senior defensive tackle savored the rivalry win. That’s to be expected: Saturday’s 42-3 slam of Iowa State was the game’s largest margin of victory since 1997, the final entry for the Hawkeyes’ 15-game in-state win streak.
But three points — even in a decisive defensive performance — leaves Iowa room for improvement.
“I prefer it to be none,” Johnson said, “but you won’t ever play a perfect game. Across the board, we did play pretty well.”
Johnson recorded seven tackles and a sack on Saturday, slowing a slogging Cyclone (0-2) offense under Iowa City’s bright lights.
He was at the middle of 11th-ranked Iowa’s surge from Week 1 to Week 2, made even more special by the blowout and bragging rights. After allowing Miami of Ohio to score 21 points and, more importantly, gain 424 total yards in the season opener, the Hawkeye defense was sharp on Saturday.
“We didn't play great last week,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “(It) wasn't terrible, but we didn't play great, and way too soft in the rush part of things. They mushed it up in there too much on us. You know, that was a little discouraging.
“The guys were really hustling to the ball. It looked like a better team defensive effort tonight, for sure.”
Positive strides were on display for each level of the defense against Iowa State.
Johnson attributed the line's improvement from Week 1 to better pad level. While missing defensive end Parker Hesse due to injury, the front four made three sacks of Iowa State’s starting quarterback Joel Lanning.
Anthony and Matt Nelson added to Johnson’s early sack, and junior Nathan Bazata refused to be left out of the action, batting two passes and grabbing four tackles. Substitutes Sam Brincks and Garret Jansen made multiple stops as well.
“There were some mistakes that were made last week, but it’s over and now tonight’s over,” Johnson said. “We’re just going to move forward, watch the film, see the mistakes we made and correct those for next week.”
The major missing piece in Week 1 was middle linebacker Josey Jewell. Iowa’s top tackler in 2015 was notably ejected after a first quarter targeting penalty against Miami. He came back Saturday, removed from return team duty, to make a game-high nine tackles.
Jewell provided production and leadership as defensive coordinator Phil Parker kept the Hawkeyes in their base 4-3 formation against an Iowa State offense that frequently ran out four- and five-receiver sets.
And the Iowa secondary played its assignments simply. Receiver Allen Lazard caught seven passes for 111 yards, but was kept out of the end zone as the rest of the offense was held in check.
“That’s just our defense,” Iowa senior cornerback Desmond King said. “That’s how we play. We’re just a man-up team and want to take out all options.
“We knew they were a tempo team and we didn’t want to have guys running on and off the field. We just played our base defense.”
As Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard tossed three touchdown passes before halftime, his defense provided a comfortable cushion to work with.
Iowa State’s first two drives went three-and-out. An errant start by Lanning carried over all night, as the passing game finished 14-of-35 for 165 yards and an interception — thrown right at Iowa linebacker Ben Niemann in coverage — with Jacob Park coming on in relief.
Star running back Mike Warren was stifled too in a 28-yard rushing effort, part of Iowa State’s 3.6 yards per carry average. Punter Colin Downing was called into action nine times.
“I will give credit to Iowa,” Iowa State first-year head coach Matt Campbell said to open his postgame press conference.
“I thought they were obviously the more physical football team tonight. They started really in the first half of the football game, and the credit there goes to both lines, offensively and defensively.”
It was a thorough four quarters that allowed just three points. Now, the Hawkeyes can focus on the improvements they’ll make for visiting North Dakota State in Week 3.
“This is the one game that brings in the most noise and we try our hardest to block all of that out,” Johnson said. “With this game being in the books, it gives us some breathing room.”