IOWA CITY, Iowa — Miami of Ohio ran the ball on Iowa last week like it was cruising down a highway. But Iowa’s Desmond King isn’t worried, and he shouldn’t be.
The Hawkeyes’ run defense issues aren’t something to be panicking over. Not right now. Not for the Iowa State game on Saturday. Not after that.
Why? Because there circumstances surrounding the Miami game that should be long-term concerns. It was just a detour.
“That’s pretty much how it is,” King said.
He was as blunt as he is effective blanketing wide receivers. He does have a point. The Hawkeyes’ problems began after starting linebacker Josey Jewell was ejected for targeting after the first series.
Iowa allowed 158 rushing yards. With Jewell, the Hawkeyes gave up an average of 2.0 yards per carry. Without Jewell and Jack Hockaday in his place, the Hawkeyes allowed 4.0 yards per carry the rest of the way.
Its an extremely small sample size with Jewell, but getting a two-year starter back should put the defense in better position to play like a road block and help solve the issues that arose from his absence.
“Josey is a hard-nosed run-stopper,” King said. “So they found plays that could stop us. They watched film as well and that shows the preparation they put in to run plays that hurt us and it hurt us in the long run.”
Jewell can cover up a lot of mistakes. The junior led the Hawkeyes with 126 tackles last season. He’s a strong presence in run defense.
“I’ve just got to stay focused,” Jewell said, “just like anybody else since I don’t have much experience with (the defense) this year. I just have to play to my own level and read off of my keys.”
There was more that went wrong than just Jewell getting sent to the locker room. Defending the read-option wasn’t where it needed to be. That could be a concern with an Iowa State attack that showed some option in the opener.
“We had too many missed tackles,” Iowa defensive end Anthony Nelson said.
Alignment and assignments were also an issue. These are all problems, but ones the Hawkeyes are convinced they know the answer to, Jewell says.
“There is always going to be some minor detail issues, fitting gaps right, everyone fitting off of each other, the secondary fitting off the linemen,” he said. “We just have to fix small things like that.”
Iowa State running back Mike Warren is capable of creating big issues for Iowa. Warren will be one of the better backs the Hawkeyes face in 2016. He’s a preseason All-Big 12 selection and set the Iowa State freshman record with 1,339 rushing yards last season.
Warren, with his combination of speed and vision, is a threat to turn any handoff into a big play. The biggest obstacle in his way isn’t Iowa. It’s his offensive line. Iowa State is breaking in five new starters and the ground game blew an engine in the opener.
The offensive line wasn’t overwhelming in a loss to Northern Iowa last week. The Cyclones rushed for only 51 yards. Warren gained 30 yards on 12 carries.
Now, Iowa State coach Matt Campbell is vowing to get Warren more involved in the offense. It’s the smart move for the Cyclones. Warren is a luxury car. He needs to be treated as such and given the ball as often as possible.
But Iowa holds a distinctive advantage up front — at least on paper. The opportunity should be there for the Hawkeyes’ defensive front to control the line of scrimmage, which Northern Iowa showed is an effective way to limit Warren’s impact on a game.
The biggest indicator of where the concern level should be with the run defense came from Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz in his Tuesday news conference. His dinner plans seemed to be a bigger issue than anything involving an opposing running back.
“It seemed like we were thinking a little bit too much,” Ferentz said. “Just kind of overanalyzing. I don’t know. It didn’t seem like we were letting it go the way you needed to let it go. Hopefully we can correct that and address it. I’m confident we will. I’ve seen us do it really well this practice. But it didn’t carry over last Saturday to the degree we want.”
Signs point to the open rushing lanes shutting down this weekend. It’s on Iowa to make sure it happens.