Jared Clauss played on the defensive line for Iowa during the rise of the Kirk Ferentz era, graduating from Iowa following the 2003 season. He then played in the NFL most notably with the Tennessee Titans. He currently lives in his home town of West Des Moines and offers us his thoughts on the Iowa-Northern Illinois game.
This was a new look Iowa defense up front. What jumped out to you?
CLAUSS: It was good to see some guys out there making plays, guys we haven’t seen before in the program. It was very good to see Dom Alvis back. He looked like he was productive out there; I saw him spin off a block for a tackle in one instance, he had the sack and there were other things he did well. NIU did a lot of things aimed at running between the tackles. They had an inexperienced offensive line but I thought they looked pretty good from what I saw. It looked like the defensive line became more comfortable as the game went on. They loosened up and made individual plays as game went on and we didn’t do a lot of that last year. I think they will improve by leaps and bounds as the season progresses. Keep this in mind; for some of these guys it was the first time they have played against someone not wearing the tigerhawk on the helmet since high school.
It was Phil Parker’s first game as Defensive Coordinator. Did you pick up on any differences?
CLAUSS: You can’t expect wholesale changes. People may have had some thoughtsas to what we’d see but he has been a part of a successful defense for a long time. On both sides of the ball, offense and defense, they were taking what was given to them. On the defensive side, there weren’t dialing up a lot of pressure but that likely had a lot to do with the type of offense they were facing. NIU didn’t do many five step drop passing plays or plays that took long to develop. This wasn’t the right team to bring pressure against. They did a good enough job in the pass rush as it was a unique offensive style. I saw a lot of what has worked for Iowa over the years minus the 73 yard run; that was a shock because we don’t give up big running plays. They said on TV that the biggest play we gave up last year on the ground was 35 yards. That has been consistent through the years and those plays just don’t happen very often against Iowa on the ground or through the air. One of the reasons you haven’t seen many big running plays against Iowa is when they are playing zone, they don’t have their backs to the ball carrier. When in a zone and when you are not bringing pressure, you are facing forward and you can react more quickly. The defense gave up just over 200 yards for the game and 73 of it came on one play. I thought the defense did well and came up big when they needed to and got the job done.
What were your general thoughts on the offense?
CLAUSS: Like any year, unless you know exactly what the wide receiver and quarterback are supposed to be doing on any given play it’s very difficult to tell. I saw a couple of different things that looked new. Iowa was more willing to get the ball to the receivers quickly and try to let them work one on one with a one step toss to the outside when NIU wasn’t in a press coverage look. Iowa didn’t have much success but they hadn’t done that much in the past. In the running game, I saw that we were giving uncovered linemen the flexibility to pull. I saw the center and tackle do that. We haven’t seen much pulling out of Iowa as they typically run the zone blocking scheme, chipping to second level. So we did use some man blocking looks and pulling uncovered linemen.
It was a good game of cat and mouse. Iowa ran a tackle trap out of shotgun and I have not seen much of that. NIU had a package where they had the option look, play action off of their WR motion option look and tried it deep once. On our end, they were bringing a lot of pressure and we tried the tunnel screen a few times, a variety of different things. We ran the tunnel screen late in game which was a great call but the linebacker for NIU read it perfectly. We were not slow getting out out of it, it was just a great effort but a great call. Iowa was waiting for the blitz and NIU kept bringing pressure. It was a geat call by Greg Davis to get them on the edge there on the touchdown play. Not a lot of people would be willing to make that outside run call on third and long. This was the first game of the year and you are not going to have the type of game plan package available that you will later in the season. Given all the new faces in the new offense, it was pretty vanilla in what they were doing. But NIU had a very athletic and good defense, and they did not give up the opportunities for many deep looks. The coverages were forcing Iowa to run and play the short passing game which they used early and often. Coach Ferentz’s offense will be balanced and we saw that.
Ed Podolak had high praise for the NIU defense after the game and you just complimented them, too. What did you see from them?
CLAUSS: A lot of times when you have non-major conference teams, the players are a little undersized and were not recruited by bigger schools as they don’t fit their criteria. Some guys are a little short or don’t have that wing span other programs are looking for. They can still play and are athletic and they were hungry; that’s a dangerous combination. They had depth from what I saw, running guys in and out and they were good with pressure. They understood their scheme because they did bring a lot of different pressures. They are good players who didn’t have the major conference size or pedigree. It was a good defense to start the year against.
NIU brought a lot of momentum into this game. They were one of ten teams who won 11 or more games last year. I don’t care who you are playing or graduating, that is a confident program knows how to win and prepare. We were on the road. This wasn’t as good of a team as we’ll see most weeks in the Big Ten, but they were solid.
Iowa was mixing up running to the weak side, using a tight end motion out of balance and they ran a lot of two tight end sets this game. That is a sign of things to come in terms of CJ and his run game development. I thought the young offensive line looked good and I saw some good combo blocking to the second level. Vandenberg’s arm strength looked improved over last year. He was whipping the ball well on the short routes.
It looked like NIU realized they were going to have to bring pressure when they were in man to man looks in order to stop Iowa. We saw it all game long, on both running and passing downs.
Iowa started the game with a 14-play drive, they converted two third downs in that drive as well. They looked good at times but things would stall out. There will be a lot of improvement week one to week two.
NIU’s plan was to run in between the tackles. They tried to spread Iowa out and run them side to side and that is tough to do against Iowa. That has to do with Iowa facing the ball in zone coverage and the way to attack that is between the tackles.
In the second half, I thought Iowa’s defense was showing that there might be an opening for the quarterback draw and then they were moving after the snap to take it away. It was a great adjustment.
Iowa went for it on fourth down in the redzone and I liked the confidence in the fullback there. They went to the belly play twice which does not take long to develop and there is not as much penetration; it’s as high percentage play. We haven’t done a lot of that.
For a first game of the year I liked the fact that both teams played penalty free for the most part and it was clean. There are usually a lot of false starts and formation penalties, but that really wasn’t an issue.
Iowa was dominant in time of possession and ran a lot of plays so I am not too concerned with the offense. I think there will be a lot of improvement this week. From what I saw, Iowa State looks pretty good. We owe them one after last year. The energy level will be ramped up and people will be excited to get into Kinnick and get a little Back in Black going. There will be more enthusiasm and emotion this weekend against the Cyclones.