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IOWA CITY, Iowa — For the second week in a row, the University of Iowa defense turned up the heat in the second half.
Seven days after limiting Northern Illinois to 91 yards and seven points during the final 30 minutes of a 1-point victory, the Hawkeyes held Iowa State to 100 second-half yards on 33 plays…and no points.
“We’re a developmental team and we’re going to keep getting better,” said UI junior linebacker James Morris. “We have to if we’re going to be any good this year. That’s our focus moving forward.”
Morris finished the game — a 9-6 win by the Cyclones — with 12 tackles and one very big interception. With less than four minutes to play, Iowa State was seven yards from a game-clinching touchdown. Cyclone quarterback Steele Jantz attempted to complete a slant route, but Morris intercepted the pass in the end zone and returned it 49 yards, giving the Hawkeyes hope.
“I saw my guy leave my zone so I took a look at the quarterback’s eyes and managed to be in the right place at the right time,” Morris said.
It was one of four turnovers the Iowa defense forced in the game, to go along with two fumble recoveries and another interception by strong safety Tom Donatell.
“Our goal every week is to get three turnovers; we did that today,” said UI linebacker Anthony Hitchens, who led all players with 19 tackles. “We have a good attitude out there and we’re all trying to fly to the ball.”
“I thought in the second half they really grew up a little bit. You just feel that on the sidelines. We were more decisive, more confident, and it certainly didn’t hurt that a couple of guys made some plays there, too. It’s the same thing on defense; you get a guy like James Morris come up, and that was huge. The guys are fighting in there, and that’s encouraging, certainly and we’ll try to build on that as well.”
UI head football coach
The Hawkeyes collected their first turnover on Iowa State’s second series. On second-and-goal from the 3, Iowa cornerback Micah Hyde forced Iowa State running back Shontrelle Johnson to put the ball on the turf; it was recovered by Hawkeye defensive end Dominic Alvis at the 10.
With two minutes left before halftime, Donatell intercepted a Jantz pass at the Hawkeye 31 and returned it 18 yards.
“(The Iowa State receiver) tried to bend it inside me, it was kind of a timing route,” Donatell said. “We saw it on film and we knew they wanted to do that against us. I kind of sat on it, broke inside and picked it off.”
Iowa forced a second red-zone fumble late in the third period. The Hawkeyes sniffed out the running play, Iowa State running back James White and Jantz appeared to get tangled, and defensive end Joe Gaglione forced the fumble. Morris recovered at the 21.
Like a week ago, the Hawkeye defense limited Iowa State to 2-of-8 on third-down conversions in the second half. But those second-half numbers aren’t enough to satisfy Donatell.
“We lost and that’s all I’m thinking about,” he said. “We didn’t make enough plays, they made more plays, so give them credit. We gave up way too many yards and let them convert too many times on third down. We’ll look at film and we’ll get it straight and get ready for next week.”
UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said the Hawkeyes will build on the defensive progression.
“I thought in the second half they really grew up a little bit,” Ferentz said of the defense. “You just feel that on the sidelines. We were more decisive, more confident, and it certainly didn’t hurt that a couple of guys made some plays there, too. It’s the same thing on defense; you get a guy like James Morris come up, and that was huge. The guys are fighting in there, and that’s encouraging, certainly and we’ll try to build on that as well.”
More than half of the Iowa State possessions in the second half (4-of-7) were three-and-out.
“The second half I thought we really played with confidence,” Ferentz said. “Looked like a different group out there. So hopefully that’s not a temporary thing, but hopefully that will give our guys a little confidence, and that’s what we have to get offensively, too.”
The stingy Hawkeye defense will be on display again Saturday, Sept. 15, against Northern Iowa. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:42 p.m. (CT).