Iowa was struggling the first few years of coach Ferentz's tenure. The team was terrible on offense and struggled to stop anyone on defense. It all changed when Bob Sanders stepped onto the field and brought a tough nosed, hard hitting, high flying act. Immediately the attitude of not only the defense, but the entire team changed. Iowa was eventually called the bullies of the Big Ten, and the attitude of Bob Sanders has been passed down with each successive class since.
In 2005 with the departure of the entire talented defensive line that lead the Hawks to a Big Ten Championship in 2004, Iowa lost a little toughness. The new line made of all Freshman and Sophomores took their beatings. As the year went on they improved and during the last two regular season games of 2005 held down 2 of the top ten rushing attacks in the country. The promise of the young line has carried over into 2006, and once again, I am hearing the Bullies of the Big Ten.
Philosophy: Watch any Iowa game there will be one obvious thing you notice. They don't blitz, they don't change coverages. You know what's coming and offenses still can't beat them. Defensive Coordinator Norm Parker's philosophy is to keep it simple, keep the ball in front of you, and hit them hard when they come your way. In their quarters coverage scheme, Iowa will let you catch the ball for five yards, but you willpay the price. The defensive line has the responsibility to take up blockers on runs and rush the QB on passes by themselves. The linebackers will clean things up. This is one of the reasons you will always see Iowa linebackers on top of the Big Ten in tackles. It has as much to do with scheme as it does with talent. They appear to be a bend but don't break defense. They assume an offense can't put together 12-15 short plays to be successful, and it works. All of the defenders are spectacular at holding their assignments. You will rarely, if ever, see a trick play or cut back run for big yards due to this.
Line: This is a magnificent collection of talent up front. Bryan Mattison and Kenny Iwebema hold down the ends. Mattison is the son of the Florida defensive line coach and has football in his blood. Iwebema has quickness and strength and is their best pass rusher. Holding the fort inside is Mitch King. He doesn't get a lot of sacks, but I consider him to be the biggest play-maker. Kannelis is tough and mean. It doesn't stop with the starter either. The line can rotate in two or three more players and stay fresh with no noticeable drop off in performance. Expect to see three of these guys palying on Sundays.
Linebackers: We all know Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway were the best of buds and are collecting very nice checks in the NFL. Many thought there would be a drop off in play this year. Well let me introduce you to the Iowa City Law Firm of Humpal, Klinkenborg, and Miles. Klinkenborg has already been named the Walter Camp Defensive player of the week this year. Humpal is a Chad Greenway clone, with speed and fine tackling skills. He made a spectacular catch against Montana's Josh Swogger. Miles is the lone returning starter of the line backing corps. He has been playing out of position in the past and is not at his natural spot where Greenway played where he has showed improvement.
Backfield: Despite the losses of Antwaan Allen and Jovon Johnson, the corner backs are improved. Shada and Godfrey are taller and faster than their all conference predecesors. Godfrey is another player who has moved to his natural spot this year and is underrated. Shada is also stepping up to show there is no drop off from the previous year. Their only weakness is playing the football in the air. This will improve with experience.
At safety, Marcus Pashcal and Miguel Merrick can absolutely lay the wood. I need not say more.
Over the first three games Iowa has given up a paltry 37 points and held every opponent under 20. Their yards will always be a little on the high side, but that has more to due with their philosophy. The results are in the points against column. Still not convinced you don't want these guys in the 4th quarter? Check this out!