Iowa linebacker Ben Niemann cools off on the sideline during the Cy-Hawk game at Jack Trice Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017. The Hawkeyes went on to defeat the Cyclones 44-41 to win the Cy-Hawk trophy. (Ben Smith/The Daily Iowan)

Plenty of room for improvement for Hawkeye defense


The Hawkeye defense looked superb against Wyoming but took a turn for the worse against Iowa State.

By Courtney Baumann

Iowa’s game against Iowa State on Sept. 9 ended with a tally in the win column, but there were plenty of Hawkeyes less than satisfied with their performance.

More specifically, defensive players had a tough time seeing positives in the way they played in Ames.

The defense, which gave up just 3 points to a high-powered Wyoming offense on Sept. 2, allowed 467 yards and 41 points against the Cyclones.

Linebacker Ben Niemann, although glad to come away with a W, made it clear that the defense was well aware of the showing it put on.

“A win’s a win, so that’s the most important thing,” Neimann said. “Obviously, we didn’t play to the standard that we hold ourselves defensively, so it definitely leaves a sour taste in our mouth. We’re eager to get back out there and play better football.”

All across the field, the defense had difficulties putting a stop to the fast-moving Iowa State offense.

The linebacker group, which combined for 38 tackles among Niemann, Josey Jewell, and Bo Bower in its first game, put together only 17 against Iowa State.

Iowa’s secondary, which gave up just 174 passing yards to the Cowboys, allowed 347 yards through the air to the Cyclones.

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Additionally, the Hawkeyes were flagged 10 times in Ames, walking backwards for 84 yards — more than double what they were hit with against Wyoming.

“Every spot, there were mistakes. We didn’t play as good of a game as we would’ve liked,” Niemann said. “The offense picked us up, credit to them, but we have to get back to working.”

There is no reason to fret, though, because all of those mistakes are correctable, Niemann said.

They are mainly fundamental things. Tackling in general was one thing Jewell noted as something Iowa needs to work on, while defensive back Michael Ojemudia said communication and rerouting receivers are a couple of keys.

“We want to get our hands on receivers just to slow them down. If they run straight down the field, it’s kind of hard to slow them down,” Ojemudia said. “Rerouting, being on the same page with safeties and corners, those were some mishaps that happened in the game. It’s just being on the same page, seeing the calls from the sidelines, [and] using hand signals instead of just yelling.”

With Iowa’s performance against Iowa State comes the concern that North Texas could watch what the Cyclones did and try to imitate it.

The Cyclone and Mean Green offenses are rather similar, and it would not be surprising to see North Texas run plays to try to get Iowa to make the same mistakes it made against Iowa State.

Jewell said he would not be surprised to see North Texas attempt something like that.

North Texas’s quarterback, Mason Fine, has thrown for 648 yards and 6 touchdowns through two games, and he has an efficiency rating of 172.4.

Iowa’s pass defense will be vital in the upcoming game.

“I’m sure some of the 11, 10 personnel guys will try that. They’ll try to run it against us just because that’s their forte, and that’s kind of what they run,” the senior linebacker said. “If people see your weakness or something you don’t do right, they’ll try to attack even more.”

As always, the players on defense continued to say they are working to adjust and make improvements every week. They know they did not play well and are working to make sure that it does not happen two weeks in a row.

“We didn’t play too hot on the defensive side. You learn from it, you watch it on tape,” Jewell said. “We’ve watched it on tape a bunch, and you just learn from it and try to get better from it.”

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is also well aware of the need for improvement from the defense.

“Being 2-0 is good, but it really doesn’t mean anything if we’re not improving this week. If we want to play in games that count in the conference in November, we need to be improving right now,” Ferentz said. “So that’s kind of what’s on our plate at this point.”

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