Another game week gone, and just like that, there are only two left. I simultaneously hate and love that so much. On one hand, the time of year we have all waited eons for is basically over, with only the deep, dark, depressing winter crouching in the underbrush waiting to pounce. But on the other hand, it is during this portion of the season that the Hawkeyes come to life. Riding a streak of November wins that reaches all the way back to 2019, the Hawkeyes are rolling again. The Bull is back in Iowa City, and now, it’s hog season.
Let’s take a look at the top performers from the Wisconsin game.
There is nothing left to say. Nothing. I legitimately could have put Dejean in this spot every week this year. The sophomore from OABCIGHIJKLMNOP high school is running right alongside Jack Campbell as the star of this defense. Saturday, Cooper played his most complete game as a Hawkeye, impacting the game on both special teams and defense. And let’s be honest, if he had been aloud to play on offense, he would have done something spectacular there as well. Against the Badgers, Dejean recorded 10 tackles including 1 for loss, and took an interception to the house to give Iowa control of the game. That alone is enough to warrant game MVP honors, but Cooper wasn’t done there. As a punt returner, Dejean displayed the elite vision that allowed him to torment Iowa high school teams for four years. “Machine Dejean” returned 4 punts for 82 yards, while his 41 yard return in the second half, all but sealed the deal. Surely he won the Big Ten Defensive Player of the week award right... Yeah well, Cal Haladay of Michigan State won that award folks. The official Big Ten Twitter account must have realized their mistake because they no longer have it posted. Put it back up you cowards!
A few weeks ago, Campbell stood at the mic for a postgame interview after one of Iowa’s early conference losses (I believe it was Illinois) and was pressed to answer questions about the offense. As we all know by now though, there is no pressure found in this universe that can break Jack Campbell. He stood up at that podium and defended every single one of his brothers in black and gold. We should have seen this turn around coming after that moment. A man like that was going to die before he let his team fail again. If you’ve ever been a part of any team, of any kind, that attitude is infectious. So yes, while the 11 tackles are impressive, and his sideline to sideline speed is day one NFL Draft worthy, Jack Campbell is more than that. Jack Campbell is a leader of men, and in the case of this Hawkeye defense, a leader of legions. God I’m going to miss him.
I remember going to a high school basketball game between Craig’s Culver Military Academy, and my Saint Joseph’s Indians back when Deontae was in high school. St. Joe had a really good team that year winning all but one of their games with a star player headed to Notre Dame the next year. None of that mattered when Deontae took the floor. I left that night knowing Iowa had gotten a gem. A ferocious competitor, Craig may be beginning to reach that same level of dominance he displayed on the hardwood in South Bend, against his college counter parts on the gridiron. On Saturday, the sophomore recorded 5 tackles, and 1.5 sacks along with the play of the game. Craig’s second quarter blocked punt turned the tide of the game and rejuvenated the Kinnick Stadium crowd. Two plays later, the Hawkeyes were in the end zone. If what we’ve seen the last 4 weeks is any indication of what is to come for Deontae, Phil may have another Johnathan Babineaux on his hands.
A player who has not gotten as much love in this article when it has been so rightfully deserved is Noah Shannon. The senior defensive tackle from Aurora, Illinois doesn’t have the mind blowing stats that some of his counterparts have, but without Shannon plugging up the middle, they wouldn’t have the stats that they have either. Against Wisconsin, Shannon only recorded 2 tackles but had one for loss. Braelon Allen also had NOTHING in the middle of the field by way of Shannon plugging it up. Make sure you watch the big man in the middle these last few games. He’s earned your attention.
The other piece of the dynamic duo in the middle of this Hawkeye defense, Logan Lee has also come into his own. Although he’s a little longer than your prototypical defensive tackle at 6’5 275, Lee has learned how to master the art of leverage while fitting into the new amorphous mold of defensive lineman that Iowa seems to be leaning towards. Lee had 4 tackles and half a sack against the Badgers and also plugged up the middle of the field, stalling the Badger rushing attack. The Hawks are going to need a duplicate performance against Mo Ibrahim and the Gophers on Saturday if they are to bring home the bacon.
Another senior, Joe Evans had himself another nice game. Like the other members of the defensive line, Evans continues to stack good games together. Joe recorded a sack for the fourth straight game against the Badgers to give him 6 on the year. The biggest improvement Joe has made in his game this season has been the ability to stay out on the field for all three downs. He has proven himself well against the run by using his quickness and speed to beat defenders off the ball. Like the rest of this line though, he’ll need to repeat this performance against a Gopher team that gashed the Hawkeyes on the ground last year.
Lukas Van Ness
LVN is a baaaaaaad man. Against the Badgers, Van Ness was constantly in the backfield harassing quarterback Graham Mertz, hitting him several times. On the day, Lukas only tallied one tackle, which was another sack, keeping him tied with Joe Evans for the team lead at six. Much like Dejean, I’m kind of running out things to say about this man. The one thing that is scarring me a little bit however are the rumors that he’ll have a decision to make on whether to turn pro after this year. It feels a little like another Anthony Nelson story to be honest, hopefully the ending is different.
The Rest of the Defense
I have to give a shout out to any Hawkeye football player who saw the field on Saturday. These guys are the reason our favorite school hoisted The Bull for only the third time in ten games. These Hawkeyes are tied with Michigan atop the standings for fewest yards per play allowed at a measly 3.8. That includes games against those Wolverines and the Buckeyes, while also not having the luxury of playing their own offense. To put that into perspective, Georgia’s defense last year, a group thought to be one of the greatest in the history of the sport, allowed 4.1 yards per play. I understand the competition that the Bulldogs faced was better overall but still, make sure you fully appreciate this unit these last two games, because after they’re over, this unit will be passed into legend.
Yikes. After the last two weeks of progress, Saturday was extremely disappointing. While I thought the run blocking wasn’t horrible, the pass protection was putrid enough to send this unit back into the stock down category. Jack Plumb, while he has filled in admirably at right tackle, needs to be better. His “attempts” to block Wisconsin linebacker Nick Herbig were absolutely shocking. Honestly, it’s the reason I cant throw Petras or any pass catchers down here because what is a passing attack suppose to do when the quarterback has a guy in his grill the moment the ball is snapped. Iowa will not win at Minnesota if this is the performance this unit unit brings to Minneapolis. I think they will be better, but with Beau Stephens questionable at guard, the Hawks will again be trusting Nick Dejong to hold down the fort. That makes me nervous.
Yes the offensive line was terrible but if that’s the case why were we dropping back to pass as much as we did? Iowa’s offense is a bunch of moving parts adding up to a big “screw you” in the end. In fact, it is much like this...
So three in row. Let’s hope the Hawks show up in Minneapolis ready to bag some gophers and a little bit of bacon. This is the hardest test left standing between this team and a return trip to Indy. Will they do it? I don’t know that answer, but what I do know, is that Iowa has Jack Campbell and Cooper Dejean. Minnesota has a bald, hyper toddler who thinks he can play with the big kids as a coach... I like Iowa’s chances.