IOWA CITY — Say it out loud: Clayborn and Klug, Ballard and Binns.
It’s downright lyrical. It has alliteration and cadence.
But defensive lines in football aren’t about poetry and symmetry. They’re about violence and mayhem. Enter Mike Daniels.
Just as he has crashed into Iowa’s playing rotation as a non-starting “starter,” junior tackle Daniels has powered past about every offensive lineman he’s faced through four games. He has 7.5 tackles for losses, one more than the starting foursome combined.
Now, there has been nothing wrong with ends Adrian Clayborn and Broderick Binns, or tackles Christian Ballard and Karl Klug. All were mainstays in Iowa’s defensive dominance Saturday in Kinnick Stadium when it plastered poor Ball State, 45-0.
But if you hadn’t known anyone’s reputation before the season began and based your opinion strictly on watching the Hawkeyes’ four games? You would probably say the team’s premier defensive lineman is Daniels.
Iowa had six tackles for losses against the Cardinals. Daniels had four, including the game’s only quarterback sack.
“A couple times,” Hawkeye safety Tyler Sash said, “(linebacker) Tyler Nielsen would turn around and be like ‘Are you kidding me?’
“Four tackles for losses … that’s pretty unheard of for one defensive lineman in a game. Maybe Clayborn.”
Clayborn has gotten a lot of focus from offenses in September. That’s not good for his statistics, maybe, but it doesn’t hurt his team with the way his defensive line partners have performed.
“Adrian’s out there just being Adrian,” Ballard said. “He’s attracting a lot of attention, which is freeing up a lot of guys.”
One is Daniels, who tore through blockers and stood up running backs like, well, a starter.
Daniels did a commendable job as a sub last season. This August, Binns insisted to reporters that Daniels would be a force this year, saying he “only has one mode, and that’s beast mode.”
“Coming out of spring football,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said, “we felt like he was right there with the other four guys. That’s not coach talk. In our minds he was a starter just like the other four guys.”
The 6-foot-1 Daniels plays at what often is called low to the ground in football. Maybe he’s like ex-Hawkeye Jonathan Babineaux in that regard. Hawkeye announcer Ed Podolak, however, compares Daniels to another current NFL defensive lineman from Iowa, Mitch King.
“They’re built a little differently,” Ferentz said, “but Mitch was one of those guys that could spark a team, too. Had a knack of finding seams and getting back there and being disruptive. Some players just do that better than others. … And Mike certainly gave us that today.”
The only other college program to vie for Daniels’ talents was Villanova. It’s an FCS power in suburban Philadelphia, 32 miles from Daniels’ hometown of Blackwood, N.J. But Villanova pulled back on its recruitment of Daniels. He said he isn’t sure why.
Somehow, Iowa had game film of Daniels. Hawkeye coaches must have gotten glimpses of what Ball State saw in eye-fulls Saturday. Ferentz phoned the player.
“That was a really big shocker,” Daniels said. “Such a great program, and getting a call from somebody as legendary as Coach Ferentz asking you if you’d like to come play for him.
“It was great. A very great thing.”
Daniels said he couldn’t have found Iowa on a map, but he knew about the Hawkeyes.
“When I saw them I just got these vibes that those are a bunch of hard-nosed, tough men out there on that field,” he said. “You watch a lot of those other teams, you focus on the talent, the speed. Iowa, it’s a bunch of tough people out there.
“Watching them play, seeing they’re very physical and tough, how could someone not want to be part of that?”
Physical and tough is Daniels, nicknamed “Mike Diesel” by teammates. Iowa center James Ferentz said, “In camp, we (on offense) couldn’t stand Mike. He never stops. He goes to the whistle, and it’s paying off on the field.”
Daniels is the team’s bench-press leader at 470 pounds.
“It’s nothing to be proud of at this point,” Daniels said, acting a little embarrassed to be asked about it.
“I’m just trying to get better, trying to get (his bench press total) ridiculously high. You always want to shoot for the stars. Weight room, classroom, whatever I have to do I try to go as hard as I possibly can.”
Some teammates used the word “monster” Saturday to describe Daniels, the player.
“Monster?” he said. “Monsters are pretty ugly, so … I don’t know. I guess it’s a compliment.”
It is, absolutely. Villanova’s miss is Iowa’s monster.