EAST LANSING, Mich. — Whatever you do, don’t suggest to the Iowa defense that it’s developed “swagger.”
That word is tired, played out. Even junior high boys give it a thumbs down.
“I don’t like that word, coach Ferentz doesn’t like that word,” linebacker James Morris said. “It resonates culturally, I know. I would just say this defense is mentally tough, that’s what I think. I like the word ‘hard’ or ‘mentally tough.’ ”
However you want to say it, the Hawkeyes defense carried the effort during Iowa’s 19-16 double-overtime victory Saturday at Spartan Stadium.
Yes, MSU’s Le’Veon Bell broke loose for 140 yards and a TD. Bell is the best running back in the Big Ten. He’s going to get his. Outside of Bell, Michigan State couldn’t get out of the blocks.
Iowa forced nine punts, five three-and-outs and sacked Spartans QB Andrew Maxwell twice. The Iowa defense also had the last word. Defensive tackle Louis Trinca-Pasat tipped a Maxwell pass that fluttered through receiver Keith Mumphrey’s hands and into cornerback Greg Castillo’s arms to close it out in the second OT.
“I think they’re growing,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “. . . I thought they played hard all day long. To win on a turnover there at the end, outstanding . . .”
(Ferentz was fighting some strong emotions here.)
“Probably appropriate that an unsung guy was really the trigger there,” Ferentz said. “Louis Trinca-Pasat getting his hand on the ball. That was a fitting end, because he’s really working hard.”
Trinca-Pasat is relatively unsung, but Castillo has been a target for fans the last couple of seasons. He plays corner. There’s nowhere to hide his mistakes. He stepped in Saturday and sealed the deal with his second career interception and second in as many weeks.
“Hopefully they like me now, huh?” Castillo joked about the scrutiny.
Wait, wait, wait, that’s swagger. They don’t like the swagger, remember?
“I think so, I’m not going to lie,” defensive end Joe Gaglione, who had a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss among his 11 tackles, said when posed the “swagger” question. “It was a great team win and I think everyone played their best game individually. That’s what coach (Phil) Parker wanted us to do, come out and play our best game, physically, mentally and toughness-wise.”
Linebacker Anthony Hitchens threw another 15 tackles into his Big Ten-leading pile. Linebacker Christian Kirksey forced a fumble on a sack. Iowa’s defense racked up six tackles for loss, including 8 yards for loss on Bell, who was like trying to catch a 50-pound bag of cement from three stories.
First-year defensive coordinator Phil Parker made his bones as a player at Michigan State, earning all-Big Ten three times as a safety. He doesn’t move the chess pieces around on Iowa’s defense, but he does keep them in position to matter when they have to matter.
“We’re confident in our schemes and our techniques and in our ability as a defense,” said free safety Tanner Miller, who had a pass breakup and a half tackle for loss. “It’s from the neck up with our defense. We have the talent, it’s starting to come out in confidence and energy.”
Some might call it “swagger.” They won’t call it that, though.
“To be honest, I don’t even know what swagger means,” cornerback Micah Hyde said. “I hear it a lot. I don’t know what swag is or it’s not. I think we were tough today. I think we played with attitude and a lot of intensity.”