Q: The defense is in the Top 10 in the nation at getting off the field on third downs, they are stopping the run well and looking solid up front. On the other hand, the competition hasn’t been great. What are you seeing from them that gives you confidence they can carry improved play into the Big Ten season?
Jared Clauss: 3rd down is the money down. It’s amazing as you look at percentage of conversions on 3rd and 2, versus 3rd and 4 versus 3rd and 6. Iowa is doing a good job of keeping the third downs in longer yardage situations, and with that the threat of the run has been smaller. They can then run blitzes or defensive line games to get the ball to come out early and make tackles in front of the sticks. It all starts with stopping the run. Iowa has always been able to stop the run without having to scheme teams
We have always been a very good at maintaining our gaps on defense. I’ve seen the line of scrimmage moving back a lot this year, which means guys are getting their hands inside the OL and knocking them back. If you compare that to what iowa’s offensive line does it is night and day. The teams we play rarely have separation up front against our offensive line. They are jersey to jersey and it’s tough to get off blocks without separation. Iowa’s defensive line gets separation and they can create problems.
The competition hasn’t been that strong and we haven’t seen a great back yet. What changes as you get into the Big Ten is teams are more willing to commit to the run and are much more balanced. What we’ll need to do is continue to progress on the defensive line so that we don’t have to rely on the blitz as much. Their DT/DE games and 3 and 4 man defensive line games have been getting cleaner and I’m also seeing the defensive tackles reading protections better. We have seen how good a well run zone blitz or man blitz can be but we’ve also seen a couple of big plays and scores off of blitzes as well as we’re leaving those DBs on their own back there. I think the biggest thing is our defense appears to be getting their identity. I am excited to see how they stack up against the competition as it is about to ramp up. I’m excited to get healthy in the defensive backfield, I’m excited about the playmaking out of Lowery, Im excited about how solid the LB play has been and I’m excited that they appear to be having fun out there.
Q: How important is a win like that? Being that the bench was emptied, most of the players on the team got a chance to see themselves in the film breakdown and possibly feel more like ‘a part of the team’ than ever. What does that do to the next week in practice and the season, or am I making too much of that?
Clauss: You said most of it. The guys that are 2nd and 3rd on the depth chart can get stale if they don’t see some time. It absolutely can revitalize practice and get guys on the same page. It also gives the coaches a chance to evaluate other guys in game situations and can heat up close competition at certain positions. There are certain guys who go years without seeing time and Iowa hasn’t been blowing people out the last few years so it can reignite that ‘want to’ factor for some guys who haven’t played against a different jersey since high school. What I feel best about is that it felt a lot like the games from years back where Iowa was solid in all phases. I also liked seeing big plays. It’s great to have 10 play drives but we need that playmaking spark potential in all three phases. Obviously with three picks, two for TDs, two special teams plays and solid play outside of the two punt returns and a balanced offensive game; we have to feel good about that. It’s great to see some guys get recognized for their great games in Lowery and Martin-Manley. This kind of win builds confidence. The difference between the vast majority of teams today is small; it’s about making plays and believing you are going to win and wanting the ball when it counts. Confidence is growing.
Q: How are things different going into conference play, aside from the obvious better teams? Do they do anything differently in general preparation, practice, etc? Or is it the same thing
Clauss: Preparation remains the same, routines are a good thing and guys are in the flow of the season now. They know how to prepare. Coaches have a better idea of what kind of talent they have so maybe they begin to focus on style a bit more (That is speculation as I’ve never sat on that side of things). A difference for the players, for the guys that have played more than one year, they begin to see guys that they’ve played against before. Guys know that competition is ramping up. There is a sense of having ‘two seasons'; one is over now and the other begins.
Q: Rivalry trophies are nice stories to write about, but does a ‘Floyd’ really matter to the players?
Clauss: We want that bacon, enough said.
Q: What areas have you seen the most obvious improvement in from week one to now?
Clauss: I’ve seen more of an attack attitude on offense, more confidence in the blitzing package on defense, the coverage teams (kickoff, punt) seem to be improving, dropped passes are down, pre snap penalties are headed in the right direction, big plays have improved, Rudock checking at the line of scrimmage seems to be happening slightly more and the defensive tackles appear to be making more individual plays among other things. That is a team we should have beaten the way we did. Iowa has to continue to make strides and we need some new guys to step up. Keeping your physical strength up as the season goes on and not losing your fundamentals will win some close games this year. Iowa will continue to work on the fundamentals and it will pay dividends. Minnesota is looking improved over last year, so it will be a great road test for us. I’m excited to see how the Hawkeyes continue to progress.