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Iowa’s Pass Defense Was Below Average in 2002: Fact, or Fiction?

Iowa’s Pass Defense Was Below Average in 2002: Fact, or Fiction?

12/15/2002 by Jon Miller of Hawkeye Nation


ESPN has a new segment they run on their sportscasts, and they call it ‘Fact or Fiction’.

They pick a topic, and ask that question.

So, borrowing from the worldwide leader in sports, I ask you the following: Iowa’s Pass Defense Was Below Average in 2002: Fact, or Fiction?

Let me begin by ripping off a line from a famous book, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’; It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

That was the case with Iowa’s pass defense this year.

The Worst of Times

Iowa faced five of the top 34 passers as rated by the NCAA. Iowa faced three quarterbacks (Iowa State’s Seneca Wallace, Utah State’s Jose Fuentes and Miami of Ohio’s Ben Roethisberger) who threw for more than 3,000 yards in 2002. Akron’s Charlie Frye threw for more than 2,800 yards.

Each of those players enjoyed solid games against Iowa, but interestingly enough, those four quarterbacks were the starters for Iowa’s four non-conference games.

Through those four games, Iowa was allowing more than 305 passing yards per game (but just five touchdown passes). Iowa rush defense was surrendering fewer than 50 yards per game, but you could make the argument that Iowa’s staunch rush D was a byproduct of the ease in which Hawkeye opponents could beat Iowa through the air. Iowa intercepted just three passes during the first four games.

Why was Iowa so soft against the pass during the first quarter of the season?

Let’s count a few of the ways.

  1. Sapp-less: Benny Sapp was expected to be an anchor in the Iowa secondary, but he was dismissed from the team before the start of two-a-days in August. Enter redshirt freshman Antwan Allen, a player who had never taken one snap at the D1 level.
  2. Graduation: Iowa lost three of its four starters on the defensive line due to graduation. Gone were Aaron Kampman , Derrick Pickens and Jerry Montgomery. Colin Cole played defensive end in 2001 and was moved inside in 2002. Howard Hodges and Jonathon Babineaux were named the starters at defensive end and each of those players saw their first starts against Akron on August 31st. Jared Clauss was the starting tackle along side Cole, and though he saw significant action in 2002, he had never been a regular starter.
  3. Linebacker Change: Kevin Worthy replaced Roger Meyer as the starter at one linebacker position
  4. Young Reserves: Backing up Allen and DJ Johnson on the corners were untested Jovon Johnson (true freshman) and Adolphus Shelton (redshirt freshman).

But to say that things got better after those first four games would not be totally accurate.

Iowa allowed 334.5 passing yards per game during the middle four games of the season, against Penn State, Michigan State, Purdue and Indiana, but the tables were turning a bit and those statistics were also a tad skewed.

Iowa allowed four touchdown passes against Penn State, but the Hawkeyes held a 23-point fourth quarter lead in that game, meaning that Penn State had to throw the football. Purdue torched the Hawkeyes for 410 passing yards, which was the low point for the Iowa pass defense.

Iowa led Michigan State 44-7 before the Spartans added a touchdown pass late in the game and held the Spartans under the 200-yard passing mark. The next week, Indiana passed for 335 yards, but the Hoosiers failed to score one touchdown.

The worm was beginning to turn for the Iowa pass defense. The Hawkeyes intercepted seven passes during the middle stretch of the season.

The Best of Times

The final four-game stretch of the season is when the Hawkeye pass defense really stepped things up a notch or five.

Iowa allowed just 172.5 passing yards per game and intercepted seven passes. The Hawkeyes yielded just one passing touchdown over that stretch. The defense allowed just five touchdowns overall during that final four game span.

Jovon Johnson started the final two games of the season in place of the injured DJ Johnson, and Jovon played very good.

Iowa recorded 13 quarterback sacks during the final four games. They had nine during the first four games and 14 during the middle four games.

Did Iowa play a ‘Murderer’s Row’ type of passing attacks during the final four games of the season? No, they did not.

But what they did find was great chemistry and a nasty attitude.

The Hawkeyes will need all of that and more as they prepare to face Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer and the USC Trojans in Miami on January 2nd. USC has the 8th rated passing attack in the nation, averaging more than 307 passing yards per game. Chuck Long’s pass-happy Hawkeyes of 1985 averaged 300 yards passing per game.

USC has speedy and large wide receivers. The Hawkeyes will likely try to get in their faces early on and may concede a few pass interference or holding penalties at the start of the game to set the tone of ‘we are not going to lay down, you will have to fight for every catch.’

I suspect that Norm Parker will mix his coverages up early and often to keep USC out of a groove.

So, fact or fiction: Did Iowa have a soft pass defense in 2002? They rank 109th in the nation in that category, allowing better than 270 passing yards per game on the season.

But their late season finish should give Iowa fans plenty of hope heading into the Orange Bowl.

Hawkeye NationHawkeye Nation was founded by Jon Miller, and later acquired by Rivals and Sports Illustrated. You can visit them at

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