IOWA CITY, Iowa — As far as Iowa defensive tackle Nathan Bazata is concerned, there is only one pertinent objective with the Hawkeyes defense.
“In any way possible we have to take a step forward with our run defense and pass defense,” Bazata said. “We can’t let them move the ball.”
The solution to Iowa’s biggest problem requires Iowa to think small. Little things are snowballing into big problems on defense. The Hawkeyes are attacking what seems like a complex equation with a basic solution — focusing on fundamentals before facing Minnesota on Saturday (noon ET, ESPN2).
“Coach (Kirk) Ferentz mentioned it in Sunday’s meeting and that is what we are focusing on,” Bazata said.
It’s more than the words coming from a coach. It came to life for Bazata when watching film of the 38-31 loss to Northwestern.
“It’s frustrating because it’s simple mistakes that we are making,” Bazata said. “You might not notice it during games, but when you turn on film it’s like, “Wow, I can’t believe I did that.’”
It’s the football player equivalent of a head slap moment. It’s not getting in position on one play. Reaction time is too slow on another. Failing to wrap up a ball carrier turns into a first down on the next snap.
Each incident is minor, but adds up to a significant number. Iowa is 87th nationally, allowing 182.8 rushing yards per game. Every opponent has rushed for at least 126 yards.
|Opponent||Rushing yards allowed|
|North Dakota State||239|
“Our issue is just playing more consistently, all 11 guys being where they’re supposed to be on a given play,” Ferentz said. “And then you have to execute the fundamentals, and that’s what I was talking about the makeables. If you’re not going to tackle consistently, it’s going to be hard to expect to be a good defensive football team. So that’s an imperative. You can’t get cut off your feet. You can’t play on the ground. There’s certain things you just can’t do defensively if you want to be sound.”
The biggest issue is interior run defense. That is where Bazata, the other defensive tackles and the linebackers come into play.
His focus this week is a lot like it was in preseason camp. Low pad level. Play his gap. Fire off the football. Don’t get pushed back.
Iowa football isn’t sexy. It wins by controlling the line and limiting mistakes. The recipe for that kind of success requires Bazata to start at Square One.
Since Ferentz said major lineup changes are unlikely, this is the path the Hawkeyes are taking to build themselves into a formidable defense again.
“Having the season that we did last year, you expect everyone’s best shot,” Bazata said. “We are getting their best shot this year.”
That will include the Golden Gophers. Minnesota wants to line up and bully its way to a victory behind its line play and rushing attack. The Golden Gophers are fourth in the Big Ten with 228.3 rushing yards per game.
“They’ve got a big group of guys and they’re going to come out, and they like to run the football,” Ferentz said. “So it’s going to be a big challenge for us matching up size-wise, so we’re going to have to do a great job with our technique.”
Ferentz is quick to point out that self-inflicted wounds are holding back the Hawkeyes. That includes players not getting where they’re supposed to be and missed tackles. Ferentz believes Iowa must correct both to combat the Golden Gophers rushing attack. Fixing them is rooted in fundamentals. It’s why the basics are such a large focus this week.
“If you’re playing good defense where the ball is in a phone booth, then you oughta be able to make that tackle,” Ferentz said. “We gotta be able to make that tackle or it’s going to be a long season. Those are the kinds of things that are coachable, addressable hopefully. And the faster we get there, the better off we’ll all feel.”