For as many years as Kirk Ferentz has been in Iowa City, the effectiveness of the run defense has been directly correctly to the amount of success his Hawkeye teams have enjoyed.
Back in 2009, the last time it started the year with a 5-0 mark, Iowa surrendered only nine rushing touchdowns throughout the duration of the season.
That year, the Hawkeyes finished the year 11-2, including an Orange Bowl victory over Georgia Tech to complete his third, double-figure win season.
Six years later, in a pivotal year for Ferentz and one that could determine his future as a coach in the Big Ten, Iowa finds itself in a similar position. With a defense focused on stopping the run and shutting opponents down in the red zone, the Hawkeyes sit at 5-0 following an important win over West division foe Wisconsin.
While the Hawkeyes enjoy an unbeaten mark as they approach the midway point of the season, the more impressive statistic, and the biggest factor in that spotless beginning, has been the defense’s reluctance to allow a rushing touchdown this far into the season.
After five weeks, it’s the only defense that has refused to allow a team to carry the ball across the goal line.
Coming into the season, Iowa’s defense was predicted to be the highlight of the team again this fall despite losing a few significant starters. But what has occurred through the nonconference slate and especially in Saturday’s 10-6 win over Wisconsin in the conference opener is somewhat unpredictable.
Even after 11 trips to the red zone, Iowa hasn’t allowed a running back to see pay dirt.
The feat has been a complete team effort, as well. Linemen Nate Meier and Drew Ott have been consistently disrupting the backfield, combining for 12 tackles for loss and nine sacks through the first five games.
Ott has also been a nuisance by jarring footballs loose, recording three forced fumbles to kick-start his senior campaign.
Linebackers Cole Fisher and Josey Jewell are the team’s top tacklers, recording 47 and 38 total stops respectively, while Desmond King has been one of the Big Ten’s best defensive backs, totaling five interceptions this year, including a pair of picks against the Badgers.
The consistent and even defensive play is a promising sign for Ferentz as the Hawkeyes prepare for an erratic race in the West division. In a conference that depends on the run game so heavily, Ferentz appears to hold that kryptonite.
Currently, the Hawkeyes rank 11th nationally in rushing yards allowed per game, surrendering just 84.4 per contest.
Thanks to its outstanding play defensively, Iowa finds itself in a great position as it battles for a spot in Indianapolis come December. As the offense appears to be much more effective than it was a season ago, the presence of this defense could tip the Hawkeyes into a championship-caliber club.
It’s a significant improvement from a 7-6 finish and a blowout loss to Tennessee in last year’s TaxSlayer Bowl.
Ferentz has his defense playing as well as anyone could’ve imagined at this stage in the season. Holding opponents under 100 yards per game on the ground and denying a rushing touchdown is an honorable accomplishment.
So far, it’s being reflected by a perfect 5-0 start.