IOWA CITY | There were moments when Carl Davis wondered what he had gotten himself into and even a day when Louis Trinca-Pasat planned to walk away.
Life as a defensive tackle in the Iowa football program is far from glamorous, but the different paths taken by the two junior starters have helped them lead a defensive front that helps the Hawkeyes rank among the nation’s elite at stopping the run.
Davis has shed nearly 40 pounds, Trinca-Pasat has added about 50 and together, they are allowing Iowa’s defense to work.
The role of the tackles in the Hawkeyes’ defensive scheme is not to pile up gaudy tackle stats or regularly run down opposing quarterbacks.
Their job is to keep the players on the offensive line occupied, giving the linebackers a chance to make plays.
“It takes a special kind of guy to do that and we have been fortunate in that we have had a lot of good guys play up front for us,'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
It’s that unselfish approach that has helped Iowa limit opponents to an average of 265.6 yards of offense through five games this season, a statistic that ranks seventh nationally and trails only Michigan State, the Hawkeyes’ opponent in Saturday’s 11 a.m. game, in the Big Ten.
“We’ve talked a lot about this being a team game this year on defense and I think we’re all approaching it that way,’’ Trinca-Pasat said. “It’s about being true to our assignments and doing our job, and I think we’re all making that happen.’’
Iowa opponents have averaged just 79.2 yards per game on the ground and last week, the Hawkeyes held Minnesota to 1.1 yards per carry while surrendering 30 total yards.
“We played football,’’ Trinca-Pasat said. “We didn’t run our mouths or anything like that. We played football and with every play we made, that just fed into the energy we had for the next play.’’
There was a time when both Davis and Trinca-Pasat wondered if they would ever play at Iowa.
When Davis arrived in Iowa City in the fall of 2010, he found himself behind players like Christian Ballard, Mike Daniels and Karl Klug on the depth chart.
“In my first fall camp, I really didn’t think I was going to make it. I didn’t think there was any chance for me to play at this level. I didn’t see it,’’ Davis said.
Davis arrived at Iowa from Sterling Heights, Mich., carrying nearly 340 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame. He found it a challenge to keep up with teammates as they worked through drills.
Trinca-Pasat, at 6-3, weighed in at 240 pounds when he arrived from Lane Tech in the Chicago Public League, and he was getting knocked back a couple yards as he fought double-teams during drills.
Davis entertained a handful of top-flight scholarship offers following an all-state career at Stevenson High School, while Trinca-Pasat dominated as a linebacker at the high school level before becoming a project of Iowa coaches who saw him as a defensive line prospect in part because of his toughness and competitive nature.
“I think they’re a lot alike, only Carl is a bit further behind at this stage because of the injuries he has gone through and the practice time he has missed,’’ Ferentz said. “This is the first time he’s played and he’s doing a good job and it seems like he is gaining confidence. Louie, I think the year of experience he has is giving him the confidence to be able to play and compete.’’
The two spent plenty of time in the weight room both during and after their first year on campus, Davis working to shed weight and Trinca-Pasat looking to put on pounds.
“The coaches had a plan, but it wasn’t easy,’’ said Trinca-Pasat, who initially told Iowa coaches following the 2011 season that he planned to give up the sport but later opted to return to the team. “There’s nothing easy about playing at this level and I had to make sure that I wanted to be here. When I figured that out, when I missed being around the team, I didn't waste the chance.’’
Those types of struggles are part of life for a defensive lineman.
“It’s a tough road,’’ Davis said. “I’ve seen a lot of people leave, just walk away, but I couldn’t do that. I kept at it and the progress isn’t always easy to see on a day-to-day basis, but you keep working and put trust in the coaches that they know what they are doing.’’
Slowly, things came together.
Now weighing 290 pounds, Trinca-Pasat played in one game in 2011 then started all 12 for Iowa a year ago as a sophomore.
Davis saw action as a reserve in each game a year ago, preparing him for the first starts of his career this season.
The pair has been productive, Davis with 15 tackles and Trinca-Pasat with 13 through Iowa’s first five games of the season. Trinca-Pasat was credited with the first sack of his collegiate career last weekend.
Mostly, they remain content to fill their roles, helping make the Hawkeye defense work while giving the linebackers a chance to pile up statistics.
“We’re facing some teams that like to run the ball downhill right now and they’re doing their jobs and we count on them to make that happen,'' linebacker James Morris said. "They're playing good football.''