Iowa fielded one of the better defenses in the country last season, thanks in part to a beastly defensive line and a
n evolution in suitably modern philosophy, going to a maintaining their now-familiar base 4-2-5 defense for the 2nd half much of the season. And while Iowa does lose a few key cogs ( Parker Hesse Dane Belton is now a n NFL tight end New York Giant, Matt Nelson Hankins is now an NFL offensive tackle, and Jack Koerner also graduated from the defensive backfield and Zach VanValkenburg leaves a void on the edge Anthony Nelson left early for the draft), the DL secondary should still be quite the threat with preseason All-American A.J. Epenesa ballhawking corner Riley Moss looking to terrorize on the edge outside. Meanwhile, Phil Parker continues to churn out the best DBs in the conference. Losing Amani Hooker those three dudes is significant, but that was the only loss in the secondary, and there are safeties in line waiting. Corners Matt Hankins Moss and safety Kaevon Merriweather Julius Brents will both be somewhere on the all-conference team at the end of the year.
Iowa has had an absolutely remarkable run of stability within the football program. Everyone knows that Ferentz has been around for forever, and that before him, Hayden Fry was the seemingly coach for life. 2 head coaches over a 40 year time. The continuity is virtually unparalleled. What may be even more nuts is that during this run, Iowa has had only 4 defensive coordinators. Bill Brashier from 1978-1995, Bob Elliot from 1996-1998, Norm Parker from 1999-2011, and Phil Parker from 2012-present.
Under Norm Parker, Iowa ran a 4-3, Cover 2 scheme almost exclusively. To such an absurd, yet effective level that it became a running thing at Black Heart Gold Pants and beyond. When Phil Parker took over in 2012, he didn’t really mess with it. Good enough for Norm, good enough for anyone. Until last season, that is.
Here’s the thing about the 4-3 cover 2 defense, it’s not perfect, especially against spread offenses. It means that a linebacker is inevitably matched up against a slot receiver, a matchup the linebacker is setup to fail. Iowa has had a few linebackers able to gloss over this glaring weakness (Christian Kirksey). However, jNW, OSU, Indiana, and PSU have all been able to take advantage and exploited this weakness to varying degrees of success. And
last season in 2018, against goddamn fucking wisconsin, A.J. Taylor lined up against Nick Niemann and beat him for a touchdown. That was the last straw for Phil Parker, defensive coordinator and secondary coach extraordinaire switched to a 4-2-5.
This evolution was actually somewhat predicted by Patrick Vint, currently of Go Iowa Awesome, and formerly of Black Heart Gold Pants. First when profiling potential replacements at DC, and then again when predicting what changes Phil would bring the following season, Vint noted that while he had been the secondary coach under Norm since joining Ferentz’s initial staff in 1999, before that, he played and got into coaching under Nick Saban.
Essentially, what Saban is discussing is the Belichick concept of a hybrid safety/linebacker to use in nickle and dime packages. When four wideouts went into the game, Belichick and Saban would replace the strongside linebacker with a “sub-linebacker” or defensive back to cover the slot
And that’s exactly what Phil has instituted
, now over the last few years. Last year Amani Hooker won the Tatum-Woodson Award by playing this cash/star position, Riley Moss led the nation in interceptions before sustaining a season-ending injury, and with Phil Parker’s record of churning out star defensive backs, this is going be a big thing into the future.
For new words on the Iowa defense, tune into the podcast tomorrow.