IOWA CITY — This week, it’s all about tempo for defensive players on the Iowa football team.
“We’re getting ready for a track meet,’’ defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat said.
Indiana pushes the pace, averaging 81 plays per game while building the 3-2 record the Hoosiers bring to Kinnick Stadium for Saturday’s 11 a.m. game against the Hawkeyes.
“They’re go, go, go all the time,’’ strong safety John Lowdermilk said.
It’s all by design, part of an offensive plan which has allowed Indiana to average 513.2 yards per game, a blend of the run and the pass coming at defenses at a rapid-fire pace.
A year ago, Indiana averaged a snap every 20 seconds when it had the ball in its hands. Only four teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision got the ball into the quarterback’s hands faster on average and the only time the Hoosiers will slow things down is when they want to.
“That’s part of what I like about the offense,’’ quarterback Nate Sudfeld said at the Big Ten’s preseason kickoff. “When we get inside the red zone and we want to take a little more time, we do. Otherwise, it’s full speed ahead.’’
And when It works, Indiana becomes one of the more difficult Big Ten teams to defend.
The Hoosiers will spread defenses out with the pass, but they do not hesitate to put the ball in the hands of Tevin Coleman, either.
The junior ranks second in the nation in rushing, averaging 168.2 of the 300 yards per game Indiana has averaged on the ground. His backup, D’Angelo Roberts, averages 71.8 rushing yards.
“The idea is to keep coming at people, taking what the defenses are giving us and making the most of every opportunity,’’ Sudfeld said.
The way the offense is designed, the quarterback has the option to shift from a pass call to the run if he spots a misalignment in the opposing defense or if the defense is set up to prevent the pass.
“It’s all about putting the ball in space,’’ Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said. “That, combined with tempo, allows us to compete with some teams that maybe from a physical standpoint that we shouldn’t be able to compete with. It can change a game quickly and if we create a headache or two for the defense, that’s fine.’’
Wilson bought into the notion more than a decade ago, then working as an offensive coordinator at Northwestern. The staff there spent time learning about the no-huddle spread attack from current Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez, then working as the offensive coordinator at Clemson.
Lowdermilk said the approach puts a premium on getting defensive calls made quickly and effectively.
“Everybody has to be on the same page and has to understand it right then because it’s time to go,’’ Lowdermilk said. “When we talk this week, we’re talking about being ready, about not wasting a second.’’
Trinca-Pasat said the Hoosiers’ approach will test an Iowa defense which limited opponents to 64.8 snaps per game during the Hawkeyes’ 4-1 start.
He believes the rotation that Iowa has used on its defensive front in its last two games will again prove beneficial, keeping fresh bodies and fresh minds on the field.
“It's the type of team that puts a lot of pressure on the defense because of how they play,’’ Trinca-Pasat said. “They’ve got a lot of athletes and they play fast. We can’t get caught up in what they want to do. We have to play our game, play hard, play every down and just be ready. That’s the big thing. We have to be ready.’’
That includes being ready for the different style of game that Coleman plays to allow him to bust free for runs of 40 or more yards 13 times this season, as many as recorded by any FBS back this season.
Iowa has already dealt with a power back in Pitt’s James Connor, but the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Coleman piles up yards with more of a slashing, downhill style.
“Once he hits the hole, he goes,’’ Lowdermilk said. “He’ll get players out of position, hits the seam and he is gone. All of us in the secondary are going to have to tackle well because if we don’t, he’ll be gone.’’
While Lowdermilk and other Hawkeyes in the secondary will work to fulfill gap assignments, defensive tackle Carl Davis said stopping the Hoosiers’ ground game before it gets going is Iowa’s primary objective.
“We want to make them one dimensional and force them to put the ball in the air,’’ Davis said. “That’s where it starts every week for us, take the opponent out of its comfort zone. If we do that, force the quarterback to work more than he wants, I like our chances but we know we’re playing a quality offense.’’