Opponent Feature: Senior linebackers stifle opponents

Danny Daly

While Iowa has historically boasted a successful football program, it does not normally attract the type of recruits that most top teams do. That’s not to say the Hawkeyes never bring in highly-touted players, they’re just not usually five-star prospects.

As a result, how much Iowa achieves is impacted by its ability to find diamonds in the rough.

“Typically, no one is going to confuse our lineup with USC’s or Ohio State’s,” coach Kirk Ferentz said at Big Ten Media Day in July. “Look at our award winners. Shonn Green, Dallas Clark – he was a third-string outside linebacker at one point. (Offensive lineman Robert) Gallery is a little bit of an exception because he started out as a tight end but ascended pretty quickly. Bob Sanders, no one knew who he was. We’ve had a lot of those kinds of stories.”

It’s time to add two more to the list: senior linebackers A.J. Edds and Pat Angerer.The pair, along with Jeremiha Hunter, has anchored Iowa’s defense, which ranks among the top 20 nationally in most major categories. So far, the seniors have combined for 140 tackles, including eight for a loss, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. Considering the Hawkeyes graduated Mitch King and Matt Kroul – two of the top collegiate defensive tackles last year – Edds and Angerer have needed to step up and fill the void.

“Any good defense usually has a good core of linebackers,” Edds said. “You can’t really have a successful defense and have mediocre linebackers out there.”

Penn State is known as “Linebacker U,” but Iowa holds its own on that front. Three years ago, Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge were chosen in the first and third round, respectively, of the NFL Draft.

As a redshirt during Greenway’s and Hodge’s senior season, Angerer was impressed with their work ethic.

“Those guys were really, really, really smart with football,” Angerer said. “They took the time and watched the tape.”

But Angerer didn’t follow their lead right away. At first, he was known as someone who liked to enjoy himself off the field. His play on the gridiron suffered, and he was a backup as recently as last August.

Once Angerer dedicated himself to the sport, he blossomed into one of the conference’s top linebackers. His friendship with Edds strengthened as well.

“We’ve gotten closer, just because of his newfound focus and desire for the game after his first couple of years on campus,” Edds said. “He’ll be the first to tell you he was kind of a loose cannon.”

The Hawkeyes have had their share of run-ins with the law. According to the Des Moines Register, Iowa football players were charged with 22 crimes from April 2007 to Sept. 2008.Iowa has cleaned up its act of late, and Edds and Angerer have contributed to the effort.

“Our senior leaders made it a point that we weren’t going to stand for guys doing their own thing off the field,” Edds said. “Coach Ferentz made some pretty hard and fast rules that he stood by with guys that messed around.”

Edds started producing regularly in his first year on campus, being named to the All-Big Ten Freshman Team by The Sporting News. He assumed a starting outside linebacker spot the next season and has held onto it ever since.

Though Edds does not put up as gaudy numbers as Angerer, who leads the team with 89 tackles, he’s no less important to the defense.

“A.J.’s played very, very well for us over the last two years,” Ferentz said. “The value of his position is not always evident in statistics or to the casual observers, but for our defense to play well, we need a good guy in that position. He’s done a great job.”

Iowa is third in the country in pass efficiency defense, and running the ball hasn’t been much easier for opponents. The Hawkeyes have allowed fewer than 100 yards on the ground in four of their last five games.

Edds’ and Angerer’s run support has been a major factor in opponents’ struggles to control the clock. That helps Iowa pull away late – the Hawkeyes have won the second half by a combined score of 148-54.

“They’re very good at closing the gap,” sophomore running back Scott Concannon said. “They come downhill real hard, real fast. They like to hit, and they get sideline-to-sideline pretty well.” [email protected]