Feature: Iowa’s defense propels Iowa to comeback victory over Michigan

Defense holds steady in Iowa’s 24-21 win over Michigan

Iowa linebacker Anthony Hitchens runs off the field after recovering a fumble by Michigan quarterback Anthony Hitchens in the fourth quarter in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. Iowa defeated Michigan, 24-21. (The Daily Iowan/Tessa Hursh)

Iowa linebacker Anthony Hitchens runs off the field after recovering a fumble by Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner in the fourth quarter in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. Iowa defeated Michigan, 24-21. (The Daily Iowan/Tessa Hursh)

By Ryan Probasco

 ryan-probasco@uiowa.edu

On a day with temperatures nearing frigid lows, the Iowa defense proved to be the best group of eleven on the field at Kinnick Stadium Saturday, as it froze the Michigan offense for just 158 total yards and 10 first downs.

“We knew we had a tough job this weekend, but we got the job done,” defensive lineman Carl Davis said following the game. “Coach [Ferentz] was telling us all week that we had to be very detailed and prepared, and it showed today.”

Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock threw three interceptions Saturday. The sophomore made errant throws when faced with pressure, something that could be corrected as he gains more experience in the pocket.

But Rudock’s confidence in the Hawkeye defense never wavered, and he recognized that, at times, the defense was bailing the offense out.

“I threw three picks, nobody wants that. That’s not what we’re looking for,” Rudock said. “But the defense answered the call. And they did a good job when Michigan was knocking on the door; they did a really good job of stopping them.”

Iowa was trailing the Wolverines for most of Saturday’s tilt. But despite the deficit and losing the turnover battle 4 to 1, Iowa was able to secure the win. The reason, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said, was the way his defense was able to keep the team in the game.

Iowa defensive lineman Louis Trinca-Pasat tackles Michigan running back Derek Green in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. Iowa defeated Michigan, 24-21. (The Daily Iowan/Tessa Hursh)

Iowa defensive lineman Louis Trinca-Pasat tackles Michigan running back Derrick Green in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. Iowa defeated Michigan, 24-21. (The Daily Iowan/Tessa Hursh)

“It started with the defense,” Ferentz said. “The defense kept us alive. It’s just not a good formula. I don’t want to try that again because we probably dodged a bullet on that one. Typically, you’re not going to win when you lose that lopsidedly in the turnover battle.”

Michigan gained just 45 yards in the second half against the Black and Gold defense, and just 9 of those yards came on the ground.

Several Iowa defensive players made pivotal plays during Saturday’s win, but senior linebacker Anthony Hitchens recovered a fumble by Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner late in the fourth quarter, which sealed Iowa’s victory.

Hitchens’ play earned the senior some bragging rights. But Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz lives with Hitchens, and said that he doesn’t expect Hitchens to talk about it all too much.

“He’s a humble guy, he won’t brag about it,” Fiedorowicz said laughing. “He just goes out there and does his job. Every time he’s out there, he kills somebody. Got to love the kid, he plays hard.”

The Hawkeyes’ success on defense was exemplary and highly representative of the efforts of its three senior linebackers. Hitchens, along with James Morris and Christian Kirksey, have been the backbone of Iowa’s defense all season long.

In their final game at Kinnick Stadium, the trio played as well or better than anyone else on the field. Ferentz said he sensed the linebacker group’s intensity back in the team’s spring camp and mentioned the effects of how well the three have represented the Iowa football program.

“Seniors can get distracted or get out there and punch the clock a bit sometimes,” Ferentz said. “Boy, those guys were going hard all the time on the practice field in spring practice.

“That’s what I’m talking about. That’s how they practiced. So the guys that aren’t as experienced, they have got to follow suit and try to keep pace with those guys. They’ve been a great example for the guys at other positions, and I’d say that about all of our seniors. They’ve really pushed hard and tried to get better.”

 

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