IOWA CITY, Iowa — If a man standing over a pre-snapped football is asked to stop a big play, he better do so before that big play gets started.
It may be easier said than done against the conference’s top scoring offense, but that is the task Iowa’s defensive line has in front of it Saturday when No. 2 Michigan visits Kinnick Stadium.
“We have to eliminate the big plays,” said assistant defensive line coach Kelvin Bell. “That’s being tough, smart, and physical. We want our guys to execute their assignments. It’s going to take our best effort to win this game, so if we can eliminate the big plays that will be good for us.”
A healthy rotation of players will also help. Nathan Bazata, who saw his streak of 22 consecutive starts end last week at Penn State, is expected to play.
“Bazata is a tough guy,” Bell said. “He is going to be out there. He missed that start, but we will see him Saturday.”
Faith Ekakitie started in Bazata’s absence. He made his first career start next to Jaleel Johnson, a fellow senior who has started 23 consecutive games.
“Those are two guys we really look up to because they are the only two seniors we have on the defensive line,” Bell said. “Both guys feed off each other’s energy. It’s a great bonus to have a guy like Faith, who is like a third starter.”
Besides those two seniors on the defensive line, Iowa will rely on a pair of sophomore starting ends, Matt Nelson and Parker Hesse, and a small handful of freshmen and sophomores on the two-deep. Sam Brincks, Anthony Nelson, Brady Reiff, and Cedrick Lattimore have all seen snaps this season.
“Those guys are really feeding off the leadership of the older guys,” Bell said. “They’ve come a long way since they started camp in August. They watch the older guys, they watch everything they do. They’re learning how to practice and what it takes to win. They’re getting valuable reps here and really spelling us as games go on.”
Iowa is 5-4 overall and 3-3 in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes have lost two straight, but have an opportunity Saturday to make national headlines while earning a bowl-eligible sixth win of the season.
“The guys are fired up and ready to play this game,” Bell said. “After last week’s performance we have a lot to prove. We talk about winning during the week and the guys approached it the right way. Monday, Tuesday, and now Wednesday, we saw great energy and effort. I’m looking forward to watching these guys play Saturday.”
The Hawkeyes and Wolverines kick off Saturday at 7:12 p.m. (CT). The game is televised on ABC.