Pressure on the Quarterback is a Must

Story by Levi Thompson

Iowa City – In battle, infiltrating enemy territory is a must. Other tactics can work, but few are as effective as meeting the opponent at its source.

Football has the same idea. On defense if you can get to the quarterback quickly success will follow. Teams that lead in sacks, quarterback hurries, and tackles for loss tend to rack up wins. That’s not a coincidence. Even if the statistics don’t represent a winning pass rush, pressure on the opponent’s quarterback is essential.

The anomaly in all of this is Iowa. The pass rush against Iowa State was teetering on the side of invisible. Cyclone quarterback Jacob Park capitalized on excess time in the pocket. The longer a quarterback is left alone the more likely they are to find an open receiver. Park did so a number of times last week. Part of this was a quick release strategy that the Cyclones had Jacob Park utilizing. It’s difficult to get to a QB when he’s taking a two step drop and releasing the ball to his talented wide receivers. However, there were still many plays where he did drop back, and while doing so had far too much time in the pocket.

The Hawkeyes recognize that defensive pressure on the quarterback was an issue. The question is how will it be fixed going into week three.

“We’ve already watched it on tape a bunch,” senior linebacker Josey Jewell said. “[The defensive line] just has to keep doing their job, taking their gaps and everyone will be able to play off of that.”

Jewell acknowledged the defensive struggles against Iowa State. It was a flipped script from the previous week when Iowa recorded three sacks against Wyoming.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde pressure on the quarterback won’t work.

Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa celebrates after making a play during an NCAA football game between Iowa and Wyoming in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. (Joseph Cress/The Daily Iowan)

North Texas quarterback Mason Fine has been sacked seven times in two games against Lamar and Southern Methodist. This presents the Hawks with a great opportunity to work out the kinks in their pass rush before starting Big Ten play. Make no mistake, games like these are put on the schedule as learning opportunities. It is meant to be a tune up, and if the Hawkeyes come ready it should be just that.

It won’t be all fun and games though, North Texas has a dynamic passing attack, and a tricky offensive style. Planning for an air-raid isn’t always simple. Especially for Big Ten teams who see little of it.

“It’s hard to practice first and foremost. That’s the hardest part about it,” Kirk Ferentz said. “You really can’t simulate it the way they do. You can’t do it. It’s like playing Georgia Tech. Good luck trying to simulate that.”

The biggest concern is substitutions. Especially in terms of a pass rush. The ability to keep fresh legs on the field is critical. Iowa’s original front seven could be left on the field often if they are unable to get substitutions in.

“We’ll have to figure that out and navigate through it and see what we can do,” Ferentz said.

Maneuvering around the tricky air-raid offense run by North Texas will be the focus Saturday for a defense that is trying to re-establish themselves. For future success, beating up on North Texas will be best understood as a confidence boost.

The defense needs to establish some confidence and consistency heading into next week’s matchup with Penn State. North Texas won’t be a great judge of how talented the Hawkeyes are, or what adjustments have been made, but it will give a sense of how well prepared they are for the rest of the season.

Against an Air Raid attack it all starts with the pass rush. The Hawkeye defense needs to hit Mason Fine early and often. If they can successfully do that then this game will be the tune up that it should be. If not, it could quickly turn into a nerve racking 3 hours of football for Hawkeye fans.

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