Red zone is a hot zone for Hawkeye defense

Sept. 29, 2008

by Sean Neugent

IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa football team came within a touchdown of victory during a heartbreaking five-point loss to Northwestern inside Kinnick Stadium on Saturday. The Hawkeye defense again provided a reason to be optimistic, especially after the offense and special teams combined for five turnovers.

If it is true that defense wins championships, then meet the stellar cast of the UI football team — a raw group of players that dares opposing offenses to come inside their 50-yard line before clamping down. It is what they do best and it was no different against Northwestern.

“We’re disappointed with the loss and with that being said, I thought our guys played hard,” UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I see a lot of room for optimism. I thought we did a lot of good things as well and the obvious challenge for us is to play cleaner, play more proficiently and not eliminate the plays that don’t give us a chance to win football games. We’ll continue to press forward on that. We have to get over this one and push on to our next ballgame.”

The final score could have been more lopsided with the huge turnover margin in favor of the Wildcats. The Hawkeyes forced one turnover on an interception by linebacker Jeremiha Hunter. Despite only forcing one turnover, the defense held Northwestern to a three-and-out with 4:20 left to give the offense a chance to win the game. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, that chance ended on a tipped pass from quarterback Ricky Stanzi on Northwestern’s 8-yard line to end the game.

“They’re getting turnovers, why can’t we?” UI linebacker A.J. Edds said. “We had a pick but we had five turnovers as a team. Why can’t we get those turnovers? We have to find a way to make those plays to our advantage. If the offense is staggering and turning the ball over a little bit like it did today, as a defense we have to be more opportunistic and make those plays for ourselves. That is something we have to work on as a defense, we are losing the turnover battle right now as a team so we have to find a way to get that corrected.”

“Losing is no fun and opening the door up to help your opponent, we have to get that corrected,” Ferentz said. “The one positive I really have seen the last two weeks, I think our team’s responded very favorably, not all the time but most of the time under some tough circumstances. We were down 14-3 last week and make it a one-point game. Our last possession today offensively, we gave ourselves a chance, realistic chance, at least to, win the football game down inside the ten with four shots at it. Couldn’t quite get it done but at least, a lot of positives there and you know, if we continue to respond like that and respond during the week, we’ll have a chance to shape into a good football team.”

Iowa is no stranger to giving up the long ball or a big run. The defense has already given up 1,412 yards on the year but they have only allowed 49 points.

The whole psychology seems to change when the ball crosses into Iowa territory. Northwestern was able to penetrate into Hawkeye territory eight times and only came away with three touchdowns and a field goal.

It could have been much worse for the Hawkeyes after uncharacteristically turning the ball over five times. Northwestern moved the ball with efficiency, but could only capitalize on a four drives. Iowa was helped by a sloppy Northwestern kicking game in which the Hawkeyes blocked a field goal, missed a field goal and missed an extra point.

“Anytime you give them that many opportunities, more possessions — we had five turnovers so whenever a team has that many opportunities they are bound to capitalize on a few of them,” UI defensive back Brett Greenwood said. “As a team we can’t give them that many opportunities.”

“We gave up 22 points and a four-drive series at the beginning of the second half,” Edds said. “We definitely did some good things. We have to focus on what we did well, what was poor and be able to fix our mistakes.”

The Hawkeyes are currently fourth in the nation in scoring defense allowing only 10.2 points per game. They are right behind Kentucky (5.5), Boston College (6.5) and Florida State (10.0).

The defense knows that the amount of yards it has given up is unacceptable and the Hawkeyes have a lot of work to do to get back on track. But for now Iowa will take it in stride and continue to try and keep teams out of the end zone.

“We didn’t play well enough to win, either side of the ball or special teams,” Ferentz said. “So you’re a lot more pleased when you win the football game, regardless of the score and what have you, and things that we can do better but there are things we are doing well, too. So we’re not there, but we’re doing some good things.”

“It could have been a lot better,” UI linebacker Pat Angerer said. “A lot of times we were so close and we need to execute and hold them better.”

The University of Iowa will have a stern test awaiting them next week against one of the top running backs in the nation in Javon Ringer and the Michigan State Spartans with the starting kickoff at 11:05 a.m.