D-fense! D-fense!

Sept. 24, 2009

Editor’s Note The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Official Sports Report, an e-newsletter delivered daily to friends of the UI and fans of the Iowa Hawkeyes. To subscribe to this free service, click HERE.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Offense. Defense. Special teams.

All three phases of the game contributed to Iowa’s 27-17 win over Arizona Saturday afternoon at historic Kinnick Stadium. Iowa had good balance en route to the Hawkeyes notching their third consecutive win to start the 2009 campaign. One “sub-area” that caught the eye of UI Coach Kirk Ferentz in a positive way was the Hawkeyes’ defensive line.

“I thought we looked a little bit more like what we hoped to see out of an Iowa defense Saturday,” Ferentz said after Iowa’s front four and more turned the Arizona defense upside down and inside out.

“It starts up front, when our guys are playing well up front that really helps us. We have been fortunate to enjoy some pretty good play up front the last couple years, and it looked like we were back maybe playing the way we hope to play. That’s a big help.”

Iowa’s defensive front did an excellent job containing the Wildcats’ rushing game, which entering Saturday’s game ranked fifth-best through two games averaging 305.5 per contest. The Hawkeye defense yielded 148 rushing yards – half of Arizona’s average entering the game – but that number is misleading. If you take away three big plays, Arizona only averaged 1.3 yards on 22 carries. Nic Grigsby, Arizona’s starting tailback, averaged 162.5 yards the first two contests and only amassed 75 yards on 11 attempts, with 58 yards coming one, albeit electrifying, carry.

Need more evidence of Iowa’s defensive domination? Here’s something: The Hawkeye defense only allowed only eight first downs, a number that ranks fourth best among the 126 games in the Kirk Ferentz era to date.

Arizona’s Mike Stoops was impressed.

“I have to give Iowa a lot of credit,” said Stoops, the former Hawkeye defensive back who knows more than a little about great team defense.

“I thought they played very well. They’re a disciplined, well-coached football team, which we knew coming in. Defensively, they’re strong in a lot of different ways. Their defense was very disruptive most of the day.”

Three of the four Hawkeye lineman registered a tackle for loss and had constant pressure on Arizona quarterbacks most of the game. Junior Adrian Clayborn had a great day, collecting six tackles, one sack, forced his first career fumble and had a career-high three QB hurries. Junior tackle Karl Klug had five stops, 1.5 tackles for loss, including a sack. One of sophomore end Broderick Binns’ tackles was for loss. And while junior tackle Christian Ballard was credited with only one tackle and a QB hurry, he helped clog the middle and rush the quarterback.

Clayborn was a menace in the Arizona backfield in the second half. The native of St. Louis, Mo., had two amazing plays on the speedy Grigsby to keep minimal gains from turning into more. The 282-pound defensive end, whose explosive performance earned him ESPN.com Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors, liked the way his fellow linemen competed Saturday. More importantly, he likes where this group is headed.

“We had guys flying around and that’s the way we need to play,” said Clayborn. “The defensive line, as a whole, is getting to the ball better than they have the past two games. We were better with our technique this week. The sky is the limit. We have a lot of season left to go and we can only get better.”

Klug, who ranks fourth in the Big Ten in sacks with two, agrees.

“We played a little better than the past two weeks,” said the 6-foot-4, 265-pound junior from Caledonia, Minn. “We looked a little sluggish in past weeks. We picked up the momentum, as far as running to the ball and gang tackling Saturday.”

Iowa’s total defense ranks second in the Big Ten and 36th in the country, allowing 303.3 yards per game. Its scoring defense ranks second in the conference and 15th nationally at just 12 points per contest. Additionally, the Hawkeyes rank first in pass efficiency defense in the league and 11th in the nation.

The Iowa defense will need to continue to improve in practice this week in preparation for Saturday night’s league opener at Penn State. Nittany Lion junior running back Evan Royster rushed for a season-high 134 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries last week versus Temple. Also, Penn State is sure to be looking to avenge last season’s one-point, last-second loss to the Hawkeyes.

The game will be televised live and in HD to a national audience by ABC with Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit and Lisa Salters calling the action beginning at 7 p.m. Iowa time. In addition to the A team from ABC, the A team from ESPN — its College Game Day crew – will also be a visitor to State College.

And, of course, there will be plenty of white…