By RICK BROWN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — There’s an old football axiom that says the tape doesn’t lie.
And the game tape from Iowa’s 23-21 loss to North Dakota State last season was a popular viewing choice in the Hawkeyes’ linebacker room leading up to Saturday’s season-opening 24-3 victory over Wyoming at Kinnick Stadium.
The Bison exploited Iowa on the edge last season. And since Wyoming head coach Craig Bohl was a former head coach at North Dakota State, Iowa figured he would probably borrow a page or two from that winning blueprint. The Hawkeyes also knew that protecting the edge would be instrumental in winning.
The linebackers watched tape to see exactly where they were exploited a season ago. They also watched Wyoming games in 2016 to see where that offense, led by star quarterback Josh Allen, liked to go. It was time well spent. Iowa was much better on the edge in the victory.
“All the plays where we had negative stuff happen (against North Dakota State), they ran again,” middle linebacker Josey Jewell said. “They threw some stuff in there here and there. But most of the stuff we knew.”
The Hawkeyes had a good feel for where the ball was going, thanks to film study.
“That was big, just watching tape,” Jewell said.
Iowa’s defense limited Wyoming to 233 yards of offense. Allen threw for just 174 yards in 40 attempts, with two interceptions. The Cowboys’ offense never entered the red zone and was shut out for the last 41 minutes and 21 seconds of the game.
Outside linebacker Ben Niemann said it wasn’t fun to watch last season’s loss to North Dakota State again, but it was a valuable history lesson.
“That game leaves a sour taste in your mouth,” Niemann said. “But it was more motivation for this week, to take those mistakes and grow from them.”
Jewell, Niemann and weakside linebacker Bo Bower made life miserable for Allen on Saturday. Jewell had 14 tackles, including two sacks. Niemann had 13 tackles and Bower 11, both career highs.
“Ben had a bunch of tackles for an outside linebacker,” Jewell said. “That’s awesome. But all our tackles go to the defensive line. If they’re fitting gaps inside, it frees us up to run outside and not have to worry about second guessing, coming back inside or anything like that.”
Every time Allen tried to get a receiver in the flat, the linebackers were usually there with blanket coverage. Strong safety Miles Taylor was also providing support, especially on play action. It was assignment football at its best.
“Assignment football is great,” Jewell said. “It means everyone is doing their job.”
It allowed the linebackers to run free and make plays.
“The defensive line did a great job,” Bower said. “They just allowed us to run.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz liked what he saw as far as protecting the edge against a dangerous quarterback expected to go high in the 2018 NFL Draft.
“We’ve been hurt on the perimeter at times, whether it’s running the ball out there or throwing it out there,” Ferentz said. “It all starts with somebody setting the edge there. Somebody’s got to put an end to things there, and we lost it on the quarterback a couple of times. But I thought we did a better job of that (Saturday). A lot of it was Ben Niemann, but other guys were involved with it as well.”
Niemann’s versatility is a must in his position.
“I’m a hybrid type,” Niemann said. “I’m not in the box as much. I have to play out in space. I’m matched up more with tight ends, while Bo and Josey get a lot more looks against guards, centers and tackles.”
The three played in unison Saturday.
“I think we played a good game,” Niemann said. “We’ll look at the tape again. But we (linebackers) want to lead the defense. We’re three seniors. We have to control the front and be good in coverage. Every week, we’re trying to give our best and do whatever we can to help the team win.”