IOWA CITY — Shaken in its most recent games, the core objectives remain unchanged for Iowa defenders.
“We’ve had stretches where we’ve played really good football, and we’ve had some others where things didn’t go as well as we needed them to go,’’ senior safety Tanner Miller said. “Those are the things we need to clean up.’’
The clean-up crew is working with a deadline of 11 a.m. Saturday, when Northwestern visits Kinnick Stadium and when the Hawkeyes will look to move beyond the issues that have led to consecutive losses to Michigan State and Ohio State.
The same defense which got off the field quickly while holding opponents to 15 points and 79.2 rushing yards through five games watched the Spartans hold onto the ball for more than 37 minutes and saw the Buckeyes pile up 495 yards of offense.
Michigan State moved the chains twice on fourth down, while Ohio State never punted and was successful on 10-of-14 third-down plays against Iowa.
Miller pointed to two different types of attacks creating issues for the Hawkeyes in the losses to the teams currently leading their respective divisions in the Big Ten, pointing to Connor Cook’s 277-yard passing performance in the Michigan State game and the scrambling nature of Braxton Miller’s game last weekend.
“They are totally separate types of offenses, but both teams had good athletes at every position,’’ Miller said. “Nothing is really going to change this week.’’
The Wildcats rushed for 349 yards against the Hawkeyes a year ago. While ankle injuries are impacting two players who combined for 328 of those yards — running back Venric Mark is not expected to play, while quarterback Kain Colter is listed as “day to day’’ — that different type of attack is representative of the challenges Iowa will continue to face.
“Those guys will bounce back, because they have to,’’ Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We have five tough games in front of us and you’ve got to be ready for the next challenge. They will. We’ve got good, quality guys.’’
Defensive tackle Carl Davis said the Hawkeyes need to continue to work toward the consistency it takes to successfully turn back productive offenses.
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“We’ve had bad second halves the last two games and you can’t do that and expect to win in the Big Ten,’’ Davis said. “We get the idea that we’re going to be seeing good teams from here on out and we need to raise our level of play to what we’re seeing across the line.’’
Over the last six quarters of football, the Hawkeyes have surrendered 351 rushing yards and watched quarterbacks combine to complete 34-of-47 passes for 346 yards and four touchdowns.
The Hawkeyes are trying to not get caught up in the numbers.
“It’s about one snap, one play at a time,’’ linebacker Christian Kirksey said. “You can’t look back, can’t look forward. It’s about that one play.’’
Linebacker James Morris views that approach as the only route the Hawkeyes can take on the road to recovery following a pair of tough losses.
“It’s a matter of staying improvement driven, putting play after play together,’’ Morris said. “If we are making strides in that direction, the results will take care of themselves.’’