Across the ball: Iowa's defense up to challenge

By The Columbus Dispatch  • 
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Charlie Neibergall | Associated Press
Linebacker Anthony Hitchens, right, a native of Lorain, in northern Ohio, has helped Iowa rank near the top of the Big Ten in fewest yards and points allowed.

Iowa ranks next-to-last among Big Ten teams in scoring, so it stands to reason that the Hawkeyes’ best chance of an upset against Ohio State today would be to limit the number of points the Buckeyes score.

That’s the plan, linebacker Anthony Hitchens said.

“That’s the nature of the game,” he said. “They want to score and we don’t want them to score. We’re going to take on that challenge, and I’m sure they’re going to take on that challenge, too.”

The challenge to which Hitchens refers has reached the seventh week of the season without an opponent having rushed for a touchdown against the Hawkeyes. They are the only team in the Football Bowl Subdivision that has not allowed a rushing score. Ohio State, meanwhile, has scored 17 touchdowns on the ground.

Iowa ranks third in the Big Ten, and among the top dozen teams nationally, in fewest yards and points allowed. Ohio State leads the Big Ten in scoring and is third in rushing, and ranks among the top dozen nationally in both.

“When you’ve got four guys you have to worry about in the passing game on the outside, and then two guys in the backfield who are dynamic runners, it makes it tough to play defense,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “You can’t really tilt your team one way or the other.”

But Ferentz has more confidence in his defense this season than he did a year ago, and especially in Hitchens and two other senior linebackers, James Morris and Christian Kirksey. Morris and Kirksey have started since they were freshmen. Hitchens, from Lorain, Ohio, west of Cleveland, joined them in the lineup last year after converting from safety and led the Big Ten in tackles. He ranks second this season.

“We have three very veteran linebackers … so that certainly helps,” Ferentz said.

Hitchens had only one other offer from a Big Ten school and waited until only a couple of weeks before signing day in 2010 for Iowa to offer. He liked the type of aggressive defenders the Hawkeyes had produced and wanted to be next in line.

The past three seasons have been difficult, with Iowa losing more Big Ten games than it has won, but Hitchens said it is his and the other linebackers’ goal to revive the program before they leave.

“Chemistry and leadership. The programs that have that are the ones that are successful,” he said. “We’re just trying to bring leadership and chemistry to this team, and I think we’ve done a great job of it this year. We’ve got to keep doing that and keep building it, and we’ll get this program back where it was.”

Today will be his only chance to play in his home state.

“Anytime you go on the road to play in a Big Ten stadium, it’s special,” Hitchens said. “A lot of kids dream to do that. I got the opportunity to do it, and it’s an opportunity that I want to take full advantage of.”

bbaptist@dispatch.com

@BBaptistHoops

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