Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
A secondary knows it has things rolling when two of its members have a conversation like the one Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood had on the Iowa bench last Saturday at Jack Trice Stadium.
Iowa led 28-3 over Iowa State, and both Sash and Greenwood had recorded two interceptions against Cyclones quarterback Austen Arnaud. As the two safeties took a few moments to relax and celebrate a big day, Sash turned to Greenwood.
"On the bench, I said, ‘If I get another one, you owe me dinner. If you get one, I owe you dinner,’" Sash recalled. "A couple plays later, I got my third one."
Sash admits one of his picks should have gone to Greenwood, but he's not about to give it back. The two players tentatively scheduled a dinner date for Monday night.
“He told me he was going to buy me a quarter-pounder or something, but I don’t think coach [Chris] Doyle, our strength coach, would like that," Sash said. "So it’ll probably be something a little healthier."
Opposing quarterbacks and ball carriers are always on the menu for Iowa, which led the Big Ten in takeaways last fall (32) and already has a league-high seven in the first two games. Sash and teammate Pat Angerer shared the league lead in interceptions with three in 2008, and Sash's three picks against Iowa State tied a single-game team record.
He's tied for second nationally in interceptions and needs just 10 picks to tie the team career record of 18 shared by Nile Kinnick and Devon Mitchell.
Defensive coordinator Norm Parker can't explain the spike in takeaways, and neither can head coach Kirk Ferentz. Angerer admits he didn't play much pass coverage in high school but was always around the ball last season.
"We just practice hard, play hard and things happen," Sash said. "We, as a team, try to be around the ball, if it’s fumbles, fumble recoveries, interceptions, whatever it is. There’s really no answer to that."
Ferentz isn't about to rack his brain trying to find one. He just hopes the trend continues, especially Saturday against a good Arizona team (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).
“Our sacks are down a little bit, but our takeaways are up, and that’s probably a good trade-off," Ferentz said. "Our guys are playing smart. They’ve been opportunistic. Last year was an excellent year and we’re off to a good start so far.”
In 2004, Iowa finished second nationally in takeaways with 32, but the team dipped to the middle or the bottom of the Big Ten from 2005 to '07. Iowa tied for last in the league in takeaways with just 20 in 2006, but the arrival of new personnel has improved things.
Sash, who started as a redshirt freshman last fall, recorded eight interceptions in high school and also played wide receiver, so his on-the-ball instincts were sharp. Greenwood, who recorded 13 interceptions in high school, picked off two passes in each of his first two seasons with Iowa before matching that mark last Saturday.
The biggest addition could be Amari Spievey, quite possibly the Big Ten's best cornerback and one of the best in the nation.
"It makes it so much easier, just knowing that Amari’s getting jams on guys," Sash said. "If we’re in Cover 1, he’s going to cover people all over the field. That kid’s an unbelievable player and I love playing with him."
Greenwood, a redshirt junior, mentored Sash from the moment Sash arrived on campus. They often watch film together, trying to pick up habits from opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers.
They also joke about interceptions, staging a bit of friendly competition. So far, Sash is getting the best of his friend, though there's some luck involved.
"I do have some pretty good instincts on the ball," Sash said, "but I’ve also been blessed by getting a few easy passes right to me.”