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How’s the Iowa Defense in 2017?

Let’s have a few beers and talk about Phil Parker’s defense

Miami Ohio v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

It’s Iowa week here at OTE, so let’s pull up a chair and have a few brewskis while talking about Iowa’s defense. Iowa writer StewMonkey13 recommends getting an Arms Race pale ale from the newly opened Iowa City location of Solon, Iowa based Big Grove Brewery.

Last year, Iowa had a very good defense that bailed out its offense (LPW Note: sounds like Northwestern in 2015).

Iowa loses standout CB Desmond King and also Jaleel Johnson, Greg Mabin, Faith Ekaktike and Anthony Gair.

I’ll let our friends at BlackHeartGoldPants tell us about the rest of the defense from their 2017 Defense preview:

Who’s fighting for a spot? On the defensive line, I’d say Matt Nelson and Parker Hesse have solidified themselves on the end positions, with Anthony Nelson rotating in when one or the other needs a breather. Brady Reiff and Sam Brincks saw some action at the end spots too, and I think Reiff could end up somewhere on the interior line. At tackle, it’s Nathan Bazata and likely Cedrick Lattimore. Garret Jansen and Reiff are the only other DTs that saw any sort of action last year to my knowledge.

All three starting linebackers return. We’d love to say Aaron Mends or Jack Hockaday challenges Bo Bower for his spot, but if it hasn’t happened by now it probably won’t.

In the defensive backfield, we have Miles Taylor coming back at strong safety and Brandon Snyder returns at the other safety position. Neither turned many heads with their play this year, but I think the ceiling is still pretty high with Snyder, who’s got two more years of eligibility left. Taylor, on the other hand, has some room for improvement—especially when it comes to tackling. And pass coverage.

Finally, we have Manny Rugamba and Joshua Jackson at the corner positions. Rugamba made a name for himself as the savior of the Michigan game, while Jackson was largely untested this year. Both are young guys, and Phil Parker has a pretty good track record when it comes to developing young corners. Behind them is Michael Ojemudia and then I have no idea.

How’s Iowa’s defense going to be this year?

Stew: Solid, borderline top 25, I’d guess.

The DL should be very good, especially the DEs. It’s probably the deepest defensive unit, if not on the whole team. Parker Hesse (can’t lose), the Nelsons, and incoming super recruit A.J. Epenesa are all above average DEs. The DT situation is a bit fuzzy, but Lattimore and Bazata should be solid. I would look for a nascar package in passing downs, similar to what the Giants ran a few years back, running out 4 DEs to pin their ears back. Matt Nelson and Epenesa have the size to hold their own inside.

The Outlaw Josey Jewell is the true anchor of the defense and is a potential All-American. Ben Niemann has a tough task, as he’s asked to be in coverage quite a bit. He played injured much of last season, and his play suffered accordingly, but there’s some high hope he can be an impact player this season. Bo Bower, well, he’s a good story.

The secondary is super young this year. However, Phil Parker has been a wizard with cornerbacks. Manny Rugamba and either Joshua Jackson or Michael Ojemudia will be very fine corners. The safety play, though, could be questionable.

Creighton: Stew pretty much covered everything. The defense is deep, well coached, and about as talented as we’ve seen in a while.

Coming into this season I would have said the biggest unknown would have been the secondary, but Rugamba and company were forced into action a few times last year due to injuries and performed admirably.

I think the breakout star this year will be Jake Gervase. When starting free safety Brandon Snyder tore his ACL this spring there was (understandably) a lot of panic coming out of Iowa City. Snyder’s backup, Gervase, is a classic Kirk Ferentz success story waiting to bloom: An Iowa kid who played quarterback in high school (not to mention bonus points for playing punter) and had basically zero scholarship offers and was given a preferred walk on spot at Iowa. In Iowa’s spring game he had 3 interceptions, returning one 60 yards for a touchdown. He’s one wrestling state championship away from being Ferentz’s adopted son.

WSR: Look at all that optimism about unproven players and playing undersized up front. I can tell you from experience that this plan always works well. There’s no way there will be a correction and/or regression following the graduation exhaustion of eligibility of so many important players. They’ll still be no worse than middle of the pack because the bottom of the B1G is so atrocious, but I don’t think I’d bet much of my own money on a top-25 defense.

Aaron: With King departing, I’m expecting the pass defense to take a step back, no matter how confident Iowa fans are in the starting safeties. Last year, the Hawkeyes were fifth in the conference with 6.5 yards allowed per pass, so that figure probably inches closer to seven, where Maryland and Northwestern were in 2016. Jewell should keep the run defense in tact even with the mystery meat up front. Still, I’m expecting more than 10 rushing touchdowns allowed this year. That figure was good for fourth in the Big Ten in 2016 even though Iowa was at the middle of the pack with just under four yards allowed per carry.

GF3: Defense is supposed to be the calling card, yes? Probably fair-to-middling with the aforementioned stars leaving, though maybe Jewell is the real glue? They’ll hold many a cardboard B1G West offense in check.

Overall, this unit shouldn’t be too much worse than the 2016 version, but it might look a lot worse if the offense can’t stay on the field and gives opponents a lot of possessions.