Scouting Report: Iowa Defense

LBs Anthony Hitchens (31) & Christian Kirksey (20)

On Wednesday LSU will take on Iowa in the 2014 Outback Bowl. TSD publisher Ben Love examines the experienced, stout Hawkeye defense, led by a trio of playmaking senior linebackers.

Before No. 14 LSU (9-3, 5-3) travels to Tampa to tango with Big Ten foe Iowa (8-4, 5-3) on New Year's Day in the 2014 Outback Bowl, TSD is previewing the Hawkeyes on both sides of the ball.

Already I took an in-depth look at the Iowa offense. Today I'll switch the focus to the defensive side of the ball, where the Hawkeyes have excelled under coordinator Phil Parker.

PROJECTED IOWA STARTING DEFENSE

DE (L): Drew Ott (6-4, 265, So.)
DT (L): Carl Davis (6-5, 315, Jr.)
DT (R): Louis Trinca-Pasat (6-3, 290, Jr.)
DE (R): Mike Hardy (6-5, 275, Jr.)
WLB: Anthony Hitchens (6-1, 233, Sr.)
MLB: James Morris (6-2, 240, Sr.)
SLB: Christian Kirksey (6-2, 235, Sr.)
CB (L): B.J. Lowery (5-11, 193, Sr.)
FS: Tanner Miller (6-2, 207, Sr.)
SS: John Lowdermilk (6-2, 207, Jr.)
CB (R): Desmond King (5-11, 185, Fr.)

Notable Backups: DE Dominic Alvis (6-4, 265, Sr.); DT Darian Cooper (6-2, 280, So.); LB Quinton Alston (6-1, 232, Jr.)

NUMBERS TO KNOW

13 – That's the number of red-zone touchdowns the Iowa defense has allowed in 2013, tying the Hawkeyes for third fewest permitted in the NCAA this season.

201/28.5 – The first number is the combined amount of tackles between Iowa's two leaders in that department – linebackers Anthony Hitchens and James Morris – in 2013. The second number is the combined amount of tackles for loss by those same two players this fall. By comparison, LSU's top two leading tacklers (linebackers Lamin Barrow and D.J. Welter) have combined for 160 stops, 7.5 behind the line.

11 – That's the number of games since Iowa has allowed a first quarter touchdown, with that score coming in a season-opening loss versus Northern Illinois. The stingy Hawkeye defense has held 10 of 12 opponents scoreless in first quarters this campaign.

ANALYSIS/BREAKDOWN

Michigan State deservedly gets a lot of the ink when it comes to tough, lockdown Big Ten defenses, but this Iowa ‘D' is built much in the same mold, and the results in 2013 show that the Hawkeyes have been extremely productive in their own right.

The focal point is the second line of the Iowa defense, where a trio of senior linebackers – Anthony Hitchens, Christian Kirksey and James Morris – have gobbled up ball-carriers from wire to wire this season. That threesome has come together to make 298 total tackles, 32.5 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. Hitchens was named the Team MVP on the defensive side of the ball while Morris is the team leader in interceptions with four.

Along the defensive line Iowa is, in a word, beefy. It will be nothing new for the Tigers to go up against defensive tackles weighing 315 and 290 pounds, but the Hawkeyes do have an unusually thick pair of starting bookends in Mike Hardy (275 pounds) and Drew Ott (265 pounds). The defensive end duo has combined for only 4.0 sacks, so that's good news especially for LSU right tackle Jerald Hawkins, who's coming off an injury in the Arkansas game, but what they lack in speed and pass-rushing competence, Iowa's DEs make up for in size and run-stuffing ability.

In the back the Hawkeyes are paced by senior cornerback B.J. Lowery, the only Iowa defender to earn a first-team All-Big Ten nod. Lowery capped off his final go-round in Iowa City with 55 tackles, three interceptions and an impressive 16 pass breakups. He's flanked by two upperclassmen safeties and true freshman corner Desmond King. On a final note, while Lowery was the only first-team all-conference selection, seven other Iowa defenders, including all three starting linebackers, received second-team or honorable mention consideration.

Give us your take on the Iowa defense

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