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Iowa middle linebacker Kristian Welch on some crucial plays against Indiana and the plan to stop quarterback Peyton Ramsey Mark Emmert, memmert@gannett.com

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Indiana couldn’t run. Indiana couldn’t hide.

This new-look Iowa defense, whatever you want to call it (a 4-2-5? a nickel?), turned in a sublime performance Saturday at Memorial Stadium, turning the Hoosiers into a one-dimensional outfit and then stealing their lunch money when they entered the red zone. The result was a 42-16 victory and more evidence that Amani Hooker is as valuable as any player in a Hawkeye uniform.

It wasn’t perfect. Every defensive player interviewed afterward made that point repeatedly.

But it was much better than a week ago, in Iowa's 48-31 win at Minnesota. And with four injured starters on the verge of returning, it’s going to force head coach Kirk Ferentz and defensive coordinator Phil Parker to make some interesting decisions about playing time soon.

“Guys are developing confidence in themselves and we develop confidence in them, too. So now you do have a few more options, maybe, as we go into the next half of the season,” Ferentz said after his team improved to 5-1. “Maybe more situationally. Some things that, ‘Jeez, I don’t know if I would have done that a month ago, but now I feel like guys can go in there and handle it.’ ”

That includes Hooker showing he can excel at both safety and outside linebacker (he has replaced Nick Niemann there the past two weeks). Sophomore Geno Stone earning two starts at safety in place of Hooker and responding with an interception in the red zone in each game. Junior Kristian Welch getting his first start at middle linebacker Saturday (in place of the injured Jack Hockaday and the suspended Amani Jones) and coming up with eight tackles and a pass breakup.

It was seamless.

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The Iowa defense did two things particularly well against Indiana.

First, the Hawkeyes bottled up the rushing attack, limiting the Hoosiers to 67 yards on the ground — their second-lowest output of the season.

Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey was the focal point, Welch said, and the sophomore rarely got free. He ran 11 times and gained a mere nine yards.

MORE: Hockenson, Fant add to Iowa's tight end legacy in rout of Indiana

Second, Iowa made winning plays at crucial moments.

In the second quarter, Iowa defensive end Parker Hesse blew through the middle of the Indiana line on third-and-1 near midfield. Hesse buried Ramsey for a 4-yard loss and forced a punt.

On the next drive, Indiana moved to Iowa’s 28-yard line, trailing 21-10. On fourth-and-1, Ramsey rolled to his right and had plenty of time to survey the field. Hooker surveyed the quarterback, reading his eyes and arriving just as a pass to J-Shun Harris did. Hooker flicked the football away. The Hawkeyes kept their two-score lead.

Indiana converted only two of its first nine third- and fourth-down situations.

Early in the fourth quarter, Stone thwarted a 74-yard Indiana drive by baiting Ramsey into a pass into the end zone from the 6-yard line. Stone leapt to snare the football and Iowa maintained its 35-16 lead.

“We had a good lead. But a score like that would have brought them within maybe a striking distance,” Hesse said. “A play like that was absolutely huge, and everyone on our entire sideline really felt the momentum swing back to us.”

Iowa marched 80 yards and put the game away.

Stone said he had prepared for that play all week, even picking off a pass in practice on that same route.

“Whenever I saw the tight end block down, I just read the quarterback and saw the slant come behind me,” Stone said. “He tried to put it in a hole and he didn’t see me.”

Ferentz certainly saw him. He pointed to that interception as one of the key plays in the game.

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For good measure, safety Jake Gervase intercepted Ramsey in the end zone on the Hoosiers’ final possession, after they had moved 60 yards in 12 plays. Iowa has six interceptions in its past two games.

“We were going to be tested, as a defense, and I thought we responded well,” Gervase said after limiting Indiana to a season-low point total. “We got off the field in some critical situations and that led to getting the ball to our offense and them scoring a lot of points.”

Hooker’s ability to move from safety to linebacker — allowing Stone to get onto the field — was the key to all of it. It'll be interesting to see, as the Hawkeyes' defense gets healthier but continues to face more spread offenses like Minnesota's and Indiana's, where Hooker will be used.

You get the sense that Hooker’s teammates are also curious.

“Amani Hooker, first and foremost, a tremendous football player,” Hesse said. “And any position you put him out there, he’s going to have an impact. He’s going to make plays.”

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