If you want to find a group that has been the most disappointing, here is your group. The group lost standouts Adrian Clayborn, Christian Ballard, and Karl Klug to graduation, but the incoming players were expected to fill in just fine. Mike Daniels, Broderick Binns, and LeBron Daniel all got significant playing time last season, so the dropoff was expected to be small. Wrong!
What we’ve seen through 4 games is an inconsistent play from a group that has been good at reloading following the departure of key players. In 2009, Ballard and Klug filled in following the departures of All-Big Ten performers Mitch King and Matt Kroul. The coaching staff and fans expected a similar transition in 2011.
What we have seen from this group is an inability to bring down the passer. In the 4 games they have played, they have been matched up vs. spread offenses. They made quick work of Tennessee Tech quarterback Tre Lamb. Mike Daniels took down Lamb in the first quarter for 1 of his 2 sacks on the season, and that was it.
The following week, Iowa made Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz look like Ben Roethlisberger. It seemed every other play there was an Iowa defensive lineman in the vicinity of Jantz, but he managed to get away. Mike Daniels and Thomas Nardo were applying pressure up the middle, but Jantz simply shoved them off him like he playing a video game. This has been the problem all year. What ensued was a collapse of the pocker, and Jantz rolled out to run or find the hole in the defense.
The same scenario applied the following week when Iowa couldn’t contain Tino Sunseri for much of 3 quarters. The pressure has been there. The wrapping up and containment has not. LeBron Daniel, Dominic Alvis, and Binns have to a better job of making sure the quarterback does not escape the pocket. That leads to running lanes for the quarterback as well as broken plays in the secondary.
The unit has accounted for 6 sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Thomas Nardo’s performance vs. Louisiana-Monroe earned him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, so it hasn’t all been bad. Nevertheless, I don’t know if I have seen a unit that has failed to bring down the passer as much as this one. On numerous occasions there have been a Hawkeye or 2 with a hand on the passer, and he escapes to scramble or find an open receiver.
The run defense has been shaky as well. One week Iowa gives up a ton to Shontrelle Johnson of Iowa State, and the following they hold NCAA leading rusher Ray Graham to under 100 yards. Daniels and Nardo present a good run stopping force in the middle, and linebackers also attribute to run defense, but the ends have got to be more physical in contain and not let runners hit the corner.
Grade – C-
I haven’t been impressed at all with this group. 4 games vs. inferior lines and the number weren’t there. I am the first to say that numbers don’t tell the story, but vs. an FCS team, a non-BCS FBS team, and 2 low-end BCS schools, I expected a lot more. The Big Ten is known for their ability to produce offensive lineman. Granted, Iowa missed the 2 that put out as many lineman as they do in Wisconsin and Ohio State. Iowa does face spread quarterbacks in Denard Robinson, Dan Persa, and Taylor Martinez. Containment is what I want to see. Those 3 will kill you if they can escape the pocket and but themselves some more time. Iowa has 4 winnable games coming up in Penn State, Northwestern, Indiana, and Minnesota. Look for Nardo and Daniels in the middle to provide pressure vs. Big Ten offensive lines. And perhaps more inporantly, look at how Binns, Alvis, and Daniel adjust and try and contain.