IOWA CITY — As it turns out, the Phil Parker defense isn’t all that different from the Norm Parker version.
The Hawkeyes have remained in a 4-3 alignment. They blitz maybe 17 percent of the time, relying on the defensive line to provide quarterback pressure. And they haven’t used a lot of press coverage with its cornerbacks, sticking with Cover 2 among other zone coverages.
Through five games, the Hawkeyes rank No. 29 in the country in scoring defense (17.4 points per game). Team-wide, that’s Iowa’s best national stat and best foot fowarad.
There was the Central Michigan glitch, allowing 15 points in the final two minutes of both halves in a 32-31 loss, but in year one of Phil Parker’s defensive coordinator-ship, Iowa defense has been Iowa defense.
When the topic of battling the proliferation of spread offenses, Parker laid out Iowa’s plan crystal clear. Everyone knows it. He wasn’t exactly giving away the Coca-Cola recipe.
“We play heavier on the interior line over there,” said Parker, who coached defensive backs at Iowa for 13 years before replacing Norm Parker in January. “We jam receivers a little bit better on the back end than a lot of guys and matchup with their routes. That’s been effective for us and I think that’s the way we see it.”
Last spring, Parker said Iowa would play more press coverage with experience favoring cornerbacks Micah Hyde and B.J. Lowery over what Iowa had coming in on the defensive line.
There is some, but not a ton.
“You’ve got press coverage, they’re going to throw a fade, and usually you’re going to get pass interference or the guy is going to catch the ball,” Parker said, repeating the mantra, no explosive plays. “That’s the way I look at it. Sometimes, we’re going to have to mix it up and sometimes I don’t always want them pressed just to give them the fade. If they’re going to go up and press, press it late.”
Blitzes and pressure came up Tuesday. Iowa’s defense ran a pair of effective zone blitzes against Minnesota, with linebackers James Morris and Anthony Hitchens picking up sacks. That won’t be a staple.
“When you do start bringing an extra guy, you’re susceptible to the big play, and then if you get a big play, I think they’re about 95 percent or even higher than that, if they get a big play in the series, they’re going to score a field goal or a touchdown,” Parker said. “Eliminate the big plays; that’s the biggest thing.”
Parker said Iowa blitzed 17 or 18 percent of the time under Norm Parker and then added that’s about where the Hawkeyes are this season.
“The more you use it [the blitz], they’re going to start picking it up and seeing it, and I think you do it once in a while, holy cow, it’s a surprise to them a little bit,” he said. “But we’ve never been a big blitzing team. I think we’re maybe about 17, 18 percent over the last couple of years, and we’re trying to . . .”
A lot of what Iowa does with its defense, Parker said, is built in. Asked about the tackle-end stunts on the D-line, he said those are a product of down-and-distance. On a passing down, Iowa’s D-line, more often than not, is going to go with that stunt.
Again in line with Norm’s philosophy, Phil Parker believes a defender who’s not worried about where to go will play faster and will less likely be out of position.
He used the example of offenses shifting and going into motion before the snap.
“You see six guys move, if you see six guys move, now six guys need different alignments, there’s different reads, there’s different keys,” Parker said before going into how Iowa defenders read it.
“If you sit there and say, OK, if you play some base stuff and you can call something where you just stand there and you see 10 guys move on their side and not one guy on defense has to move, I think the advantage goes to the defense because they already know where they’re lined up, they have their stance, their alignments, now they have to read the play.”
Boiled down, this simple approach is the fastest and most violent approach. That’s what defense has been at Iowa through all of the Parkers.
“Sometimes, just lining up and playing is a little bit better than saying let’s have 15 defenses to call, and say, boy, let’s have all these different adjustments, just like a calculus equation or physics,” Phil Parker said. “My son is taking physics here at the University of Iowa, so right now, I don’t want to solve one of his problems. I’d just rather stick to what we do.”