IOWA CITY, Iowa — Josey Jewell’s quick ejection for targeting in Iowa’s season opener had the defense unnerved and out of sorts.
The statistics weren’t horrible in the Hawkeyes’ 45-21 opening win, but it never felt like the defense was settled. Iowa had uncharacteristically gave up three long scoring drives. The postgame mood was one of indigestion after a great meal.
“We didn’t play great last week,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Just wasn’t terrible, but we didn’t play great, and way too soft in the rush part of things. Just they mushed it up in there too much on us. You know, that was a little discouraging.”
Jewell, a junior middle linebacker, returned Saturday and stabilized the defense in a 42-3 pounding of instate rival Iowa State. The Hawkeyes dominated in all aspects, allowing Cyclone quarterbacks to complete just 14 of 35 passes, giving up only 3.6 yards per carry and, most importantly, getting off the field on third down.
Miami converted nearly half of its third-down opportunities (5 of 11) in the opener. Iowa State managed just 3 of 15 on third down. Jewell led the defense with nine tackles but the way his teammates responded was just as indicative of his leadership as his statistics.
“It limits the run game from a 6-5 (yards per carry) average to maybe 2-3,” Iowa cornerback Desmond King said. “He’s a tough run defender. We know we’ve got the run locked down and we just have to worry about things that’s in the air now.
“He puts us in the right position making sure everyone is the same calls on the defensive side, not getting things mixed up, not having everybody in two different coverages.”
Jewell, as usual, deferred to his teammates as the reason for the team’s improvement.
“A lot of other guys got a lot better, working on the detail stuff, working on their fits, working on pass coverage,” Jewell said. “It’s going to happen after the first game. You are going to get better and improve every game.”
While Jewell’s inclusion provided both tangible and intangible benefits, Iowa’s other defenders did play much better. Defensive tackle Jaleel Johnson shook off multiple double teams — like in the opener — but finished with seven tackles (up from three) and had two for loss.
“Watching the film from last week’s game, there were some things we really didn’t do too well as a unit,” Johnson said. “We went back and corrected it.
“Josey is a great player. But, God forbid Josey hadn’t come back from last week, we have other guys who can definitely step up to the plate and make plays just like Josey can.”