During the Hawkeyes' best years under Kirk Ferentz, Iowa became known as "the Bullies of the Big Ten" due to its hard-hitting defense and dominant offensive line.
Over the last few years, it seems Iowa has lost its way, but new offensive line coach Brian Ferentz is determined that the Hawkeyes will re-earn their erstwhile moniker.
He was adamant about it at the beginning of preseason camp (via Hawkreport.com), and he has been adamant about it in the Twittersphere,
If the last two games are any indication, the Bullies of the Big Ten are indeed back.
The offensive line has been dominant, allowing one sack in the last five games, and it has paved the way for an impressive 5.55 YPC over the last four contests. This has been despite an inconsistent-at-best and non-existent-at-worst passing game.
In other words, despite playing defenses that have had the freedom to sell out against the run, the running game has still delivered.
Meanwhile, the defense, and particularly the defensive line, came into the season with low expectations.
As Marc Morehouse of the Cedar Rapids Gazette pointed out before the end of spring practice, "Iowa football ’12 is under construction and nowhere is that more evident than the defensive line."
Yet, six games into the season, the defense and the line have been the strength of the team, and that has shown up in the stats.
The Hawkeyes have the Big Ten's third-ranked scoring defense and fourth-ranked total defense. Both are also ranked within the Top 25 nationally.
The Iowa rush defense (opponents' YPC) is tied for No. 2 in the conference, and the pass rush that struggled early in the season has found consistency in its last two games.
The Hawkeye front four repeatedly pressured Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell in the second half without the help of any extra pass-rushers. This led to a three-point Spartan second half that saw half of its six second half drives go three-and-out.
It also led to MSU running back Le'Veon Bell looking one step slower in the fourth quarter than he was in the first half. It is supposed to work the other way around.
Even more surprisingly, senior defensive end Joe Gaglione is near the top of the Big Ten with four sacks and eight tackles for losses.
Meanwhile, sophomore defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat is establishing himself as the next in a long line of small, high-motor Iowa linemen. For comparison's sake, think of Karl Klug, Mitch King and Jonathan Babineaux.
For the first time under Ferentz, the Hawks have established a solid rotation on the defensive line, and almost all of the linemen in question—junior Dominic Alvis, sophomores Carl Davis and Mike Hardy, redshirt freshmen Darian Cooper and Riley McMinn—are underclassmen.
The linebackers are playing at a level that Iowa fans haven't seen since 2009, and all three of them are juniors with room to improve.
Lastly, it is no coincidence that the offensive line and linebackers—the two best position groups on this year's team—have new, young, passionate coaches in Ferentz and linebacker coach LeVar Woods.
It is unfair and inaccurate to entirely credit those position group's successes to Ferentz and Woods, but this much is certain: The excitement and enthusiasm that is evident on the Iowa sidelines as the Hawks headed into overtime against MSU has been absent for a few years. It is no coincidence that it has returned with Ferentz and Woods.
It also won't be too much of a surprise if the Hawkeyes reclaim their title as Bullies of the Big Ten.
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