What’s the secret to the Hawkeye defense’s success?

Hawkeye Headquarters

AMES, IA – SEPTEMBER 11: linebacker Jack Campbell #31 of the Iowa Hawkeyes recovers a fumble and runs it in for a touchdown in the second half of play against the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium on September 11, 2021 in Ames, Iowa. The Iowa Hawkeyes won 27-17 over the Iowa State Cyclones. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)

 

McDonald’s Diet Coke, Chick-Fil-A sauce and the Hawkeye defense. Many will agree all these things are very good. Behind the scenes, there’s something that makes them all stand out above the rest. Some might even call it a secret.

McDonald’s has a different handling process for its Diet Coke; Chick-Fil-A sauce is a combination of ingredients no one’s quite been able to crack yet. So what’s the “secret” that makes this Hawkeye defense so good?

“It’s nothing special, it’s nothing fancy,” junior linebacker Jack Campbell said.

That’s pretty much it. There is none. No special scheme and this isn’t a defense full of blue chip prospects.

“Iowa gets a lot of guys that might run the best forty, jump the highest, we’re kind of mutts,” Campbell said after Saturday’s win.

It’s just a bunch of “mutts” doing their jobs.

“We’re in the places we need to need to be,” senior cornerback Riley Moss said. “And when you’re in the places you need to, that stuff tends to happen.”

“That stuff” he’s talking about are turnovers. At this point everyone knows the numbers. They’ve forced seven of them. Three of those were taken back for touchdowns. In fact, the defense has scored two less points by itself than it’s given up.

“It’s kind of a crazy number, but I’m not really shocked to be honest with you,” Moss said.

Not shocked because it’s something they see in practice all the time.

“There’s no plays you make on Saturday, that you don’t make on Tuesday,” senior defensive end Zach VanValkenburg said.

So when they get to games, it looks like eleven parts working in near perfect sync to form a well-oiled machine.

“It’s selflessness, it’s preparation, it’s not just one guy making a bunch of plays,” VanValkenburg said. “We’re doing our assignments, we’re all playing fundamental team football.”

It’s no machine however. That cohesion comes from a connection forged over the course of years.

“We fly around and I think the biggest part too is that we know each other so well and have a lot of close bonds with each other,” Moss said. “It really helps the trust on the back end and with the linebackers and the d-line, we’re just one really tight unit, so that helps a lot.”

It’s created a culture of “we” over “me.”

“All these guys are really unselfish guys,” Moon Family Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “They just want to play hard. They don’t care who does what.”

And there’s no better example of that than when they reflect on their game-changing plays.

“It’s a great moment, but I can’t really take credit for it,” Campbell said of his scoop and score at Iowa State. “That’s ten other guys scrapping and clawing to get that ball out. I was just blessed to be in that position to pick it up.”

So while it’s not special or a secret, it’s a recipe many have found hard to crack. The Hawkeyes seem to have found the right mix and they hope it can take them to new heights.

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