Iowa defensive line gets down to business

Kirk Ferentz doesn't have to do much to motivate Iowa's defensive line this week.

No words are needed. The Hawkeyes coach simply can press the play button and show last year's film of the Iowa State game.

Then he can sit back and watch the steam rise from his players' ears.

"I'm not sure I'll have to say a heck of a lot," Ferentz said. "Part of our film study is looking at last year's game. They'll get some reminders during the week."

Adrian Clayborn hasn't forgotten what happened last year in Ames as he prepares for Saturday's rivalry game against Iowa State (ABC, 3:30 p.m. ET).

Sure, the final score read: Iowa 35, Iowa State 3. But Clayborn and his linemates didn't like another number -- 190.

That's how many rushing yards Alexander Robinson and the Cyclones racked up against Iowa last year. Although Iowa allowed more rush yards to both Michigan (195) and Ohio State (229), Iowa State had a better average rush (5.59 yards per carry) against the Hawkeyes.

"We really stunk it up," Clayborn recently told me. "We weren't playing the way we play. We weren't reading our keys and weren't doing anything right. We weren't playing physical.

"We just looked like a bunch of tired dogs out there."

Tired dogs might be the last description typically used to describe Iowa's defensive line. All four starters return this season -- Clayborn and Broderick Binns at the end spots, Karl Klug and Christian Ballard inside -- after they combined for 252 tackles, 52 tackles for loss, 27 sacks, 17 quarterback hurries, seven forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in 2009.

Add in top reserve Mike Daniels, and it's easy to see why Iowa's front four has been branded by many as the nation's top defensive line.

Just don't tell them about it.

"I try to tune out the outside world as much as I can," Ballard said. "I talked to a couple players who have been in this same spot, like Aaron Kampman. He let me know that all the attention you'll get will go away immediately if you don't perform, so performance is the No. 1 thing on our minds as a defense.

"The expectations and what people are saying is great, but you can't just rely on your expectations."

No player on Iowa's team enters the season with higher expectations than Clayborn. Coaches around the Big Ten were shocked that he decided to return for his senior season after recording 11.5 sacks, 20 tackles for loss and four forced fumbles as a junior. He earned numerous preseason All-America honors and is considered at least a fringe candidate for the Heisman Trophy.

While quarterback Ricky Stanzi has achieved folk-hero status among Iowa fans, there's little doubt that the dread-locked Clayborn is the team's biggest celebrity.

"I didn't realize how bad it was until we both went to coach K's house," said Klug, referring to D-line coach Rick Kaczenski. "We carpooled, and as we’re walking back to his car, this random guy yells out the window, ‘Adrian!’ I asked him, ‘Does that happen a lot?’ and he says, ‘Yeah.’

"I can go under cover a little bit better."

Clayborn is the big name, but his line mates certainly share the spotlight.

"Christian, he’s just an incredible athlete," Clayborn said. "He's 300 pounds but he can run like a gazelle. Broderick's got those long arms, he can bat down anything. And Karl, he’s got a motor out of this world. And Mike Daniels, he's a beast. He's going to be good this year.

"It's going to be tough for teams to just focus on me."

Despite Clayborn's VIP status, the defensive line lacks big egos or huge personalities.

Just like their defensive scheme, tried and tested by coordinator Norm Parker through the decades, the Hawkeyes' linemen are straightforward but extremely effective at what they do.

"We rely on every guy to do their job," Klug said. "One guy screws up, the whole defense is screwed up. We really focus on fundamentals. We just don’t go out there and run around.

"As a group, we're all business."