IOWA CITY — Shaun Prater is a cornerback’s cornerback. That’s part relief pitcher who tallies the big strikeout or allows the winning run and it’s part stuntman.
It’s a ledge position with danger on all sides. It’s only for those who can put the triumphs into perspective and let go of the defeats.
Being a cornerback’s cornerback, Prater’s “swag” didn’t go anywhere, not even after Iowa’s rough outing two weeks ago in Ames and not even after a few long pass plays between him and new free safety Tanner Miller in last week’s victory over Pittsburgh.
“We all thought it was a run, it was cover 2, there’s supposed to be a safety over the top,” Prater said. “It’s just something we can learn from and fix today in practice.”
“Swag” is the term kids use these days for “swagger.” It’s an attitude, a strut. It’s something athletes need to summon in their own ways when they need it.
Swag for Prater is the bet he has with fellow cornerback — well, now and again fellow cornerback — Micah Hyde.
“Well, Micah and me have this little thing going on about interceptions this year,” Prater said. “A pick six is three points. A pick is worth one. A game-saving interception is worth two.
“So, we’re tied. He has three points and I have three since the pick six. I have to catch up and make sure I blow him out.”
A dinner is on the line. For the Iowa secondary, swag is on the line again this week.
The Hawkeyes’ defense pretty much gave birth to the legend of Iowa State quarterback Steele Jantz, allowing the former juco to throw for 279 yards and four TDs in a 44-41 triple-overtime ISU victory. As you might imagine, that spawned some changes in the secondary.
Is it an overhaul when three-fourths of the secondary positions change in one week?
Jordan Bernstine and Miller (free safety) were the new safeties, with Bernstine replacing junior Collin Sleeper at strong safety. Hyde moved from free safety and replaced junior Greg Castillo at corner. Prater stayed at left corner, where he’s been for three seasons.
The message out of such change is loud and clear.
“This is a competitive exercise and that’s one of the first things we explain to everybody at the onset of practice back in August,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “The coaches’ responsibility is to get the best-prepared guys on the field and to make sure everyone is prepared.”
The changes looked shaky at first. There was the 66-yard TD between Miller and Prater mentioned above. Iowa allowed five pass plays of 20-plus yards. It allowed six 20-plus pass plays to Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert, now the starting QB for the Jacksonville Jaguars, in last year’s Insight Bowl. Before that, you need to go back to the ’09 Michigan State game to find that many big pass plays against Iowa.
On the other hand, Iowa (2-1) forced five three-and-outs, including a crucial three-play, 5-yard drive in the fourth quarter, giving Iowa’s offense a real shot to do something. Against Iowa State, Iowa had three three-and-outs, none of which came after early in the second.
And there were Hyde’s interceptions, including the game-sealer upper in the fourth quarter.
“Wherever they put us, you just want it to work,” Hyde said. “We’re three games into it. We all want to be out there knowing everyone has each other’s back.”
The stability Hyde brought to corner allowed Iowa to move the safeties around. Miller lined up with 5 yards of the line of scrimmage a few times and also played some one-high safety, more of a centerfield spot.
“We have two of the better corners around and we tried to match them up with the outside receivers more than we have in the past,” said Miller, who had seven tackles in his first start. “I think it made a world of difference with Micah on the outside getting two picks.”
You can’t discuss Iowa’s secondary without mentioning the physicality that Bernstine has brought. The fifth-year senior missed the Iowa State game with an illness, but he’s still fifth on the team with 16 tackles and is tied for the team lead with 2.5 tackles for loss.
“He’s going to bring energy today in practice, every time he’s on the field that’s exactly what he does,” Prater said. “He’s flying around knocking people out. It’s just what Jordan Bernstine does. It makes my job a lot easier. If it’s to my side, I know Bernstine is laying someone out.”
That’s “swaggy,” or at least a desired football behavior that could bring out a sudden case of swag.
In the Prater-Hyde bet, the cost of swag is a dinner. Prater is thinking Joseph’s in Iowa City. Hyde remembered having a meal there during his recruiting trip. but he’s not picky.
“I’m cool with the spicy chicken from Wendy’s,” Hyde said. “I’m cool with that. I’m not going to bust his wallet.”
Prater and Hyde are tied at 3-3 going into Saturday against Louisiana Monroe (1-2), which is fitting. Iowa’s secondary is at least an even bet to carry the swag into November.
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