Parker Feels Good About Hawkeye Defense

Oct. 9, 2013

News Conference Recap (Oct. 8, 2013)

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — When does a 4-2 record feel better than a 4-2 record? When talking about the 2013 University of Iowa defense compared to the season before.

“We’re 4-2, the same situation we were last year, but our defense is much improved,” UI defensive coordinator Phil Parker said Tuesday at a bye week news conference in the Hayden Fry Football Complex. “Our kids are committed to the game, they have been playing tough, and the effort has been great.”

Though Parker isn’t a statistics guy, it is easy to rattle of the rankings for this group of Hawkeye defenders:

 Eighth among NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision teams in rushing defense (88.5 yards per game)

 Tied for eighth in red zone defense (allowing 6-of-9 red zone scores)

 Ninth in third-down efficiency (26.7 percent)

 11th in total defense (290 yards per game)

 17th in pass efficiency defense (106.74)

 Tied for 18th in turnovers gained (12 in six games)

 19th in scoring defense (16.8 points per game)

“We’re 4-2, the same situation we were last year, but our defense is much improved. Our kids are committed to the game, they have been playing tough, and the effort has been great.”
Phil Parker
UI defensive coordinator

At this point of the 2012 season, the Hawkeyes were 4-2 overall, 2-0 in the Big Ten Conference; but they did not win again over the final six games. This year Iowa’s two losses have come to No. 23 Northern Illinois (5-0) and last week against Michigan State (4-1), a team that received votes in The Associated Press poll released Sunday.

While the Spartans lead the nation and conference in total defense, Iowa is third in the league (behind Michigan State and Wisconsin). The Hawkeyes are third in scoring defense, rushing defense, pass defense, pass defense efficiency, and interceptions.

The starting defense for the Hawkeyes includes six seniors, three juniors, a sophomore and a freshman.

“I feel good about the group and how close they are,” Parker said. “We have more depth and more guys capable of going on the field to perform at a high level and win.”

As expected, the three senior linebackers lead the Hawkeyes in tackles. Anthony Hitchens is tied for 23rd in the nation with 59 stops (9.8 per game), followed by James Morris (43) and Christian Kirksey (42). Parker said the defensive line is gaining ground. Three players have interceptions; Morris and senior cornerback B.J. Lowery have three apiece.

“If we can just get the secondary up to par, we’ll be all right,” Parker said.

Of plays that have gone for 20 or more yards in the first six games, Hawkeye opponents have executed 19, with 16 coming through the air.

“If you’re going to play good defense you have to eliminate the big play,” UI head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We’ve got to do a better job of that in the next six weeks.”

The Hawkeyes are still perfect in rushing touchdowns allowed. The only other FBS school joining Iowa with giving up no rushing scores is Michigan, which comes to Kinnick Stadium on Nov. 23.

“We’re comfortable with the guys we have, and they’re playing at a high level,” Parker said.

Iowa returns to the field Oct. 19 against No. 4 Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio. The Buckeyes, who also have a bye this week, lead the Big Ten in scoring per game (46.8) and in rushing touchdowns (17).

“The difficult thing is staying focused on the one you have next,” Parker said. “My biggest focus right now is Ohio State.”