Feature: Iowa linebackers lead physical style of play in win over Northwestern

Iowa’s physicality was the difference in a 17-10 overtime victory over Northwestern.

By Cody Goodwin
cody-goodwin@uiowa.edu

Kain Colter scrambled in, then out, then toward the right. He did all he could to keep the play, and Northwestern’s hopes, alive. But Louis Trinca-Pasat closed in, wrapped Colter up and brought him to the turf. It was Iowa’s sixth sack on the day, only this one ended the game.

Then, chaos. Anthony Hitchens threw his hands in the air and screamed. The Black and Gold bench cleared and stormed the field. The 66,838 watching inside Kinnick Stadium roared so loud that it was almost impossible to hear the announcer over the speakers announce that the Hawkeyes had beaten Northwestern in overtime, 17-10.

“It looked like he had nowhere to go with the football,” Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz said. “And then the good news is the guys up front stayed where they should stay. We didn’t get out of our lanes, so he didn’t have an alley to run through.”

The play — just the fourth for Northwestern in overtime — is likely to be one of the more memorable ones in a game where Iowa’s physical defensive play made all the difference.

 

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Iowa’s senior linebackers led the charge. James Morris, Anthony Hitchens and Christian Kirksey combined for 29 total tackles against Northwestern, including 4.5 behind the line of scrimmage. Hitchens and Morris also collected 3 total sacks — the Iowa defense managed 6 as a unit.

Morris especially played as if he made sure to get a hit on Colter each play. It was a much different game from the one played a year ago, when Colter rushed for 166 yards and three scores. He spent that October day in 2012 running through lanes and making plays.

But on Saturday, Colter managed just 72 rush yards and wasn’t able to find the end zone. He spent Saturday afternoon running sideline-to-sideline, unable to create the big play the Wildcats so desperately needed. Northwestern totaled 248 yards on the ground, but weren’t able to score a rushing touchdown.

“We made sure to eliminate his big plays,” Kirksey said. “Coach wanted us to be physical throughout the game. He told us to get a jam on the receivers, be able to take a hit, and that’s what we did.”

Iowa’s physical style of play was noticeable throughout the whole defense. In the second quarter, with Northwestern driving down the field with ease, Hitchens made a hit on Mike Trumpy that forced a fumble. Morris recovered, halting the drive.

Trumpy fumbled again in the fourth quarter after several Hawkeyes made contact, and true freshman Desmond King recovered. That turnover ended another drive where Northwestern might’ve scored go-ahead — and perhaps, game winning — points.

King helped preserve Iowa’s victory again in overtime, when his hit on Northwestern’s Stephen Buckley broke up what would’ve been a first down completion. Buckley dropped the ball, setting up Trinca-Pasat’s sack on fourth down to end the game.

“The best thing about Desmond is that he just keeps his mouth shut every day and goes to work,” Morris said. “He goes to work with a purpose. He’s earned the respect of everybody on our defense, and he’s just one of the guys now.”

These physical plays helped seal a Hawkeye victory after it appeared they might blow another halftime lead, allowing the celebration at game’s end to be a sigh of relief. This is a win that will help build confidence in a team that’s struggled in finishing games — Iowa’s been outscored 50-14 in it’s last three games, translating to, as many might guess, a 1-2 record.

That sort of playing style has made Iowa an easy target for quick judgments. Ferentz’s squad is often labeled as a team that can’t finish, or a team on the rise, or a team with budding talent for next year. To that, Ferentz just smiles.

“The bottom line is in conference play and historically, if you don’t win close games the season is not going to go the way you want,” he said, adding: “And if you can win close games, you give yourself a chance.”

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