Iowa D-line's turning point may surprise you

Iowa entered the 2009 season with a good defensive line and emerged from it with a great one.

The natural question, then, is when did the Hawkeyes' front four reach its turning point? Typically, a turning point takes place in a loss, or in a game a team nearly loses before rallying for a win. In case you forgot, Iowa had quite a few of those in a wild 2009 campaign.

But for the Hawkeyes defensive line, the turning point happened in a 35-3 victory.

"Definitely that Iowa State one sticks out," defensive tackle Karl Klug said. "We underachieved in that game. A lot of us weren't running to the ball like we should have. To tell you the truth, it was pretty embarrassing."

Tough crowd to please.

Star defensive end Adrian Clayborn is even more direct about the line's performance against its in-state rival.

"We played like [expletive]," Clayborn said. "We weren't doing well on the pass rush. I was getting my [butt] kicked sometimes. I don't know what was wrong, but that was our turning point. We got together after that game and said we need to turn it around."

It's easy to look at the lopsided final score, but a closer examination of the Iowa-Iowa State game shows why Clayborn and his linemates were a little peeved on the bus ride back from Ames.

  • Iowa surrendered 190 rush yards, its third highest total of the season.

  • Iowa State running back Alexander Robinson reached the 100-yard rushing plateau on only 19 carries, and Cyclones quarterback Austen Arnaud, who had an otherwise miserable performance, rushed for 56 yards on nine carries.

  • Iowa failed to generate a sack against Iowa State, which would mark the only time all season that the Hawkeyes didn't drop an opposing quarterback in his own backfield.

Other than the final outcome, Iowa's linemen and defensive coordinator Norm Parker had little to be happy about.

"I just didn't think they played as hard as they should have," Parker said. "On film, there didn't appear to be enough extra effort."

Parker smiled.

"We had a nice talk."

Safe to say, it wasn't G-rated. But whatever was said seemed to work.

A week later, Iowa held Arizona to 253 total yards in a 27-17 win, a game that Clayborn calls the defensive line's best of the season. Most would apply that label to Iowa's victory at Penn State, as Iowa surrendered only 109 rush yards and had two sacks, a safety forced by defensive end Broderick Binns and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown by Clayborn.

Iowa returns its entire starting defensive line for 2010. Outside expectations will be higher, but so will the standards set by Parker and the players themselves.

"They can be pretty good," Parker said. "They should be better than last year. They're a year older, a year bigger, a year more mature. The place where they can improve the most is they should be more consistent, they should be more mistake-free than they were a year ago."

Translation: no more performances like the Iowa State game.