Sept. 29, 2011
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — It’s about using game experience to add to the memory bank for the University of Iowa defense.
“With (Tyler) Nielsen going down the last two games, we have been playing with three sophomore linebackers,” said UI defensive coordinator Norm Parker at Tuesday’s coordinator press conference inside the Hayden Fry Football Complex. “Some of the things that happen, you have to recall from games in the past.
“It’s so hard to teach them everything. When (Abdul) Hodge and (Chad) Greenway were the linebackers, you could say, `remember the way Indiana did this against us two years ago,’ and they got it. These young guys, they have no “remember whens.” This is all new. So you have to learn on the job, learn on the run.”
With more opponents using the spread offenses featuring quarterbacks, which Parker equates as an old school “single-wing tailback,” it isn’t making things easier on the defense.
“I see improving at every segment. I see the defensive line improving, I see the linebackers improving, and I see the secondary improving. I think we can do more things, and we can make more adjustments than we could three weeks ago. Three weeks ago if we had to make an adjustment, that was like a major crisis. Now it doesn’t fall into place like dominos, but at least it gets closer to falling like dominos.”
UI defensive coordinator Norm Parker
“The craze in college football now is all of this no-huddle, hurry up, how many plays can you get in and try to wear the defense down,” said Parker. “I think it’s harder to physically play defense than offense. The more plays they can run at you, the more they can wear you down, the more they can get you to break you down mentally.”
From the season-opening 34-7 victory over Tennessee Tech to last week’s 45-17 win over the University of Louisiana at Monroe, Parker has seen his Hawkeye defense grow.
“I see improving at every segment,” said Parker. “I see the defensive line improving, I see the linebackers improving, and I see the secondary improving. I think we can do more things, and we can make more adjustments than we could three weeks ago.
“Three weeks ago if we had to make an adjustment, that was like a major crisis. Now it doesn’t fall into place like dominos, but at least it gets closer to falling like dominos.”
Parker singles out senior Jordan Bernstine as one of the “leaders” on the UI defense. The safety made his first start against Pittsburgh on Sept. 17, and has been a spark plug for the unit ever since.
“He’s done an incredible job of being a guy that turned his attention and his zest for the game around,” said Parker. “He’s really become, from being a very insignificant leader, to maybe the leader of the defense.
“People you saw always asked the question, `where’s Bernstine?’ He always was that guy; could have been, should have been, never was. Then all of a sudden, like sort of a light switch, turn it on, and he’s really done well for himself and well for the team.”
The departure of Adrian Clayborn, Karl Klug and Christian Ballard from the defensive line to the NFL has created opportunities for the likes of Mike Daniels, Thomas Nardo and Dominic Alvis to step up.
“It has to be their turn,” said Parker. “They have to fill those gaps. I don’t expect the new guy to be Adrian Clayborn, but you have to go out there and be as close to Adrian Clayborn as you can, and then you’ve got to get better every week.
“The thing that is good is they (new defensive players) are young, eager to learn, willing to learn, and not afraid to say `coach, I blew it, teach me how to do it.'”
Parker’s UI defense is using each practice, every game and every snap as a learning experience to add to the memory bank.
The Hawkeyes return to action in Happy Valley on Oct. 8 for their Big Ten Conference opener at Penn State. Kickoff is set for 2:36 p.m. (CT), and the game will be televised on ABC or ESPN, depending on the location.