Iowa’s defense hoping to maintain golden standard with new faces

Published: Sep. 3, 2023 at 11:12 PM CDT
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - Following Iowa’s season opening 24-14 win over Utah State, there’s been a lot of focus on the Hawkeyes’ offense. On the other side of the ball, Iowa’s defense did what Iowa’s defense does even with some new faces.

Iowa linebacker Jay Higgins led the Hawkeyes defense against the Aggies registering a team high 16 tackles.

“I feel like if you put any linebacker who wears a Tigerhawk, he would have done the same thing. Just trying to live up to the standard,” Higgins said.

Following the departures of Jack Campbell and Seth Benson, Nick Jackson and Higgins seem to be filling those holes quite nicely.

“Even though he wasn’t quote on quote a starter last year, we’ve always considered Jay to be a starter. He’s a strong leader, just a tremendous young guy, totally committed,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We’re counting on him. The same thing with Nick (Jackson). For us to be good on defense, our linebackers, our safeties have to be good tacklers.”

After registering a pick six in the Music City Bowl, it seemed like safety Xavier Nwankpa picked up where he left off last season. The sophomore picked off another pass in the second quarter against Utah State in just his second career start. Although he left the game due to cramping, it doesn’t seem to be serious.

“Nothing long-term, but it’s where our guys have to be smart here the next 48 hours,” Ferentz explained.

Another player who stepped up on Iowa’s secondary and displayed what it means to be a ‘Ball Hawk’ was cornerback Deshaun Lee. The redshirt freshman tallied six tackles, which ranked third on the team. He was fired up to do so in front of a sold out Kinnick Stadium crowd.

“It was me just being in the moment. A lot of hard work has been put in and I finally made a play in a college game, so it was just a lot of excitement,” Lee said about his energy on the field.

“As impressive as anything was his tackling and being where he should be to contain some of those things,” Ferentz added. “Maybe as good of story as there was today because you’ve got a guy like Cade who has played, Deshaun hasn’t really. For him to step in there and do that, I thought he did a great job.”

Lee was pushed up to the number one spot after junior Jermari Harris was ruled out.

“I was just ready for my number to be called, just preparing a lot, putting in a lot of work so I’d be ready for when that day finally comes,” Lee said.

Ferentz confirmed that Harris will also miss week two’s matchup against Iowa State, so fans could see more from Lee soon. That also excites Higgins who was impressed with the young guns decision-making on Saturday.

“In the defensive room, when Coach [Phil] Parker is watching defense and he sees a young defensive back stay patient and disciplined on a trick play, that’s all we can ask for,” Higgins said.