IOWA CITY — A return to the sidelines has provided Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker with the ability to take more of a hands-on approach with his players.
“The faster you can give them feedback, the better off you are,’’ Parker said Tuesday.
Parker worked out of the press box a year ago, his first as a coordinator at Iowa, but returned to the field this season to work with a defensive unit which has shown significant growth.
“Now, I’ve got direct contact with the players and I’ve got a better feel for the game when I’m downstairs on the field,’’ Parker said. “I like being around the guys and I want to make sure I get my point across when I need to get my point across.’’
Parker has had both positive and negative points to press as Iowa has worked its way to a 4-2 record at the midpoint of the season.
The Hawkeyes have held their first six opponents below their season rushing average and currently rank eighth nationally in allowing an average of 88.5 yards per game on the ground.
Iowa joins Michigan as the only teams at the FBS level that have not allowed a rushing touchdown this season. The unit ranks third in the Big Ten in scoring defense, total defense, rushing defense and pass defense.
The Hawkeyes have blitzed 15 percent of the time this season, a fairly average number throughout the 15 seasons coach Kirk Ferentz has led the program. Parker considers a success rate of right at 73 percent on those blitzes to be solid from a group of personnel he believes is better equipped for success.
“I feel good about the group, the chemistry, and I think we have more depth this year. I think we have more guys who are capable of going on the field and performing at a high level,’’ Parker said.
He also sees room for growth.
The Hawkeyes have intercepted nine passes this season, equaling the seventh-best total in the country, but Iowa has been burnt by the long ball on occasion.
The 10 touchdown passes the Hawkeyes have allowed this season have covered an average of 33.7 yards. Only one — a 17-yard fourth quarter score by Iowa State — has been shorter than 20 yards.
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“It’s a challenge to go back and play corner on the receivers when they’re going to have some time when they six-man, seven-man protect,’’ Parker said. “The receivers are going to have time to run a couple of double moves on you, so you have to be good on your fundamentals.’’
Parker has watched Hawkeye cornerbacks thrive, and then struggle, sometimes within minutes of each other.
“You have to be perfect with it. When you look at (Jordan) Lomax, Desmond (King) and B.J. (Lowery), they’ve made a lot of good plays and they’ve given up some, too,’’ Parker said. “That all goes with the position. You’re on an island and everybody sees it. Up front, guys make mistakes and nobody knows. On the back end, everybody knows.’’
Parker believes consistency will come with experience.
Iowa has allowed three runs of 20 yards or more — just one by the first-team defense — and has given up 16 pass plays of 20-plus yards through six games. Those are numbers Parker can live with.
“If you do that math with the passes, 32 over the course of the season would be well below where we were at a year ago,’’ Parker said. “We need to continue to work. We need to continue to get better, but I like where we are at right now.’’