By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Because of the unusual circumstances surrounding him, Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker is easy to overlook and under-value.
He isn’t the head coach, nor is he the charasmatic son of the head coach.
He doesn’t bask in the spotlight or say things in interviews or on Twitter that would qualify him as a quote machine or a media favorite.
He also doesn’t call plays for the offense or decide who starts at quarterback.
And he doesn't have the same dry sense of humor as his former boss at Iowa, the late Norm Parker (no relation).
Phil Parker just quietly goes about his business, and wow, did he ever have a great day at the office on Saturday, his office being Kinnick Stadium.
Parker’s defense was overshadowed until Saturday’s season opener finally started.
Then it became the story on a day with multiple storylines.
Iowa's defense was so impressive that Wyoming never advanced to the red zone despite having one of the top quarterbacks in college football in strong-armed junior Josh Allen.
Brian Ferentz and his Iowa offense had their moments, and did enough to help secure a 24-3 victory, including Nathan Stanley throwing three touchdown passes, but this day clearly belonged to Parker and the defense.
Take away Cooper Rothe’s 49-yard field goal in the first quarter and the Cowboy offense has nothing to show for its trip to Iowa City besides frustration, caused partly by missed opportunities.
Iowa committed four turnovers, including losing three fumbles and an interception by Stanley, and yet, Allen and his cohorts still couldn’t find the end zone. They actually found it once on a beautifully thrown pass by Allen in the third quarter, but the ball was bobbled by his receiver, erasing a potential touchdown.
Three points was the lowest point total for Wyoming since a 38-3 loss to San Diego State on Nov. 14, 2015.
“It’s too much,” said Iowa senior linebacker Bo Bower. “It’s too many points and we’re going to work at not giving up that many points.”
So in other words, Bower won’t be satisfied unless Iowa pitches a shutout every week or allows just a safety because that’s the only way to top Saturday’s masterpiece on defense.
You kept waiting for Wyoming to start clicking on offense behind Allen, but it never happened. The 6-foot-5, 240-pounder made some throws that show why NFL scouts reportedly think highly of him, but not nearly enough of them.
Allen was held to 174 passing yards and 17 of his 40 passes landed incomplete. He also was sacked three times by an Iowa defense that had three new starters in the secondary.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, who improved to 16-3 in season openers with Saturday’s win, compared Allen to NFL quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during the week and again on Saturday.
Roethlisberger faced Iowa three times while playing quarterback for Miami (Ohio) in 2001, 2002 and 2003, and lost all three games.
“If you're going to play a quarterback like that, I'll go back to '03 with Roethlisberger, there's some parallels in this game,” Ferentz said. “You're not going to slow him down unless you play really good team defense. So it was a real good effort.”
Junior cornerback Josh Jackson made just his second career start on Saturday, but you couldn’t tell by the way he performed. The Texas native was effective against both the run and pass. He showed that he could be physical and play with finesse. He also showed impeccable timing, which is huge for a defensive back.
Sophomore Michael Ojemudia also held his own while starting for the suspended Manny Rugamba at the other cornerback position.
“It was good to see,” Ferentz said. “We're really careful about how much we tackle live. That probably showed up in some of those turnovers. You always run that risk. But, yeah, I thought, for a first game out defensively, we did a lot of really good things fundamentally, outside of that one off the sudden change, and that's more mental than anything else.
“But I thought we did a lot of good things fundamentally for a first time out defensively. And, again, you can build on that. Part of that was our guys on the edge too. But two new corners, yeah, I worry about a lot of things with those guys.”
Ferentz was referring to the play in which the Wyoming receiver dropped a wide open touchdown pass. That was one of the few times when the Iowa secondary was caught out of position.
Jackson was quick to share the praise after Saturday’s game.
“Our defensive line did really good with their rushes,” said Jackson, who recorded his first career interception on Saturday. “I think we did as a whole a good job tackling and setting edges on the perimeter and trying to keep them inside.”
Now they just have to keep doing the same thing over and over because big-time college football is a what-have-you-done-lately-for-me business.
Should Iowa struggle on defense at Iowa State next Saturday, the performance against Wyoming would lose some luster.
“I think we did really good defending the ball,” Jackson said. “I think we played our keys, played our zones and coverages. I think the next couple weeks we have to still minus mental errors, minus short passes. There’s still a lot we have to work on but overall I think we did really well.”
Parker raised a few eyebrows recently when he said Iowa's current front seven on defense has a chance to be one of the best he has coached. Parker doesn't just throw out compliments, so you have to be encouraged by what he said, even more so after watching the Iowa defensive line dominate the line of scrimmage and Iowa's three starting linebackers combine for 38 tackles on Saturday, including 14 by preseason All-America selection Josey Jewell
The Iowa offense, meanwhile, was a mixture of good and bad, but there were more good things by the time Saturday’s game ended.
Stanley compensated for his three turnovers by becoming the first Iowa quarterback to throw three touchdown passes in his first start since Ricky Stanzi in 2008.
His 27-yard scoring strike to tight end Noah Fant late in the second quarter was a thing of beauty the way Stanley hit Fant in stride with a perfectly thrown pass on a vertical route.
Stanley also completed a 45-yard touchdown pass to Nick Easley in the third quarter that left you shaking your head in a good way.
“I was really pleased with him. He went through some rough times out there,” Kirk Ferentz said of Stanley. “I mentioned the whole team really responded to the bumps, but I thought he did too. He didn't get rattled. I'm sure he was internally, but he stayed strong, just stayed steady out there, and some of those throws that he made were pretty impressive and the catches as well. But for Nate to make those kinds of throws, I thought that, especially coming off a couple bumps, that says a lot about his makeup.”
As for Brian Ferentz, his much-anticipated debut as the Iowa offensive coordinator for his father had some shaky moments caused mostly by the turnovers, but his group still did enough to prevail.
Senior Akrum Wadley rushed for 116 yards and left Cowboy defenders grabbing for air on several nifty runs, while graduate transfer James Butler contributed 47 rushing yards on a day in which the Iowa offensive line was without starting center James Daniels because of a minor injury.
Wadley and Butler hardly ever played at same time on Saturday but that could change as they get used to other and as Brian Ferentz gets more comfortable in his new role. Brian's offense didn't really look much different than the previous offense under Greg Davis. But there were some encouraging signs like the vertical route that Fant used to get open on his 27-yard touchdown pass.
Overall, this was an impressive win. Iowa covered the spread and looked superior to Wyoming on both sides of the line of scrimmag, as it should.
The Iowa offense showed its potential, while the Iowa defense showed its dominance.
That's reason for hope, and reason to appreciate Phil Parker