The line’s improvement has allowed Iowa’s talented trio of senior linebackers to make plays all season. James Morris was the latest to benefit, as he earned Big Ten defensive player of the week honors with eight tackles, a sack and an interception against Minnesota.
“If we can control the line of scrimmage, that takes 50 percent out of people’s game, and then we can focus on pinning our ears back and getting sacks,” defensive lineman Dominic Alvis said. “If we can take the running facet out of the game, there’s not a whole lot left. That’s huge.”
Because Iowa plays such a patient and physical style, field position is crucial.
Thanks to increased depth and relative health, Iowa has been better on special teams too.
Opponents are averaging just 2.5 yards a punt return — though Ferentz remains concerned about the kickoff coverage team — and kicker Mike Meyer has hit all three of his field-goal tries from at least 40 yards.
Iowa’s schedule gets much tougher in the second half of the season, so it’s tough to say whether the Hawkeyes will be able to keep pushing opponents around as they have so far. But by going back to the formula that’s suited it so well in the past, Iowa has put itself in position to contend for a division title.
“It’s a product of all 11 guys working in the offseason and then, when we get on the field, just executing and playing hard,” Morris said. “Those plays are going to come, and you don’t know who it’s going to be.”