Leistikow's DVR Monday: Hawkeyes weren't out-coached this time
There’s a happier tune to sing on Week 6 of DVR Monday.
The chorus for much of the season had been Iowa’s mistakes and rushing defense.
But can Saturday’s 14-7 victory at Minnesota be the bridge that takes the Hawkeyes to a crescendo finish to the 2016 season?
We’ll get an idea of that with this week’s 11 a.m. game at Purdue. But unlike a week earlier against Northwestern, when Desmond King said Iowa was "out-coached" in the passing game, the Hawkeyes (4-2, 3-1 Big Ten Conference) showed more savvy and execution in Minneapolis. And they found plenty of things to build upon.
The perfectly executed play
It was a day for defense at TCF Bank Stadium, but what is the most important offensive play of Iowa’s season to date is worth dissecting.
Akrum Wadley’s 54-yard touchdown scamper through a hole on the left side with 5 minutes, 28 seconds remaining was a blocking and running clinic. Iowa ran a similar play in the second quarter against the Gophers and gained 12 yards and then chose a perfect time to try it again.
Pre-snap, Iowa stacked three wide receivers on the right side (aka “trips”) that attracted four defenders. That left the Hawkeyes with six blockers against seven Gophers.
Let’s examine this inside-zone running play, from left to right:
- Tight end George Kittle gave defensive end Winston DeLattiboudere one step to his outside, then plowed him deep into Iowa’s backfield, completely out of the play. (That’s one of seven defenders accounted for.)
- Left tackle Boone Myers chipped defensive tackle Andrew Stelter, then helped seal off linebacker Jonathan Celestin. (That’s two; give Myers a half-player each.)
- Left guard Ike Boettger, in his first game at that position, was the first to engage Celestin -- who made the stop on Wadley’s earlier 12-yarder -- and kept him blocked to widen the hole. (Still two.)
- Center James Daniels took on defensive tackle Scott Ekpe and didn’t let him budge. (That’s three.)
- In perhaps the key block, pulling right guard Sean Welsh moved left and pancaked off-track Stelter to the ground. (That’s four.)
- Right tackle Cole Croston gobbled up rushing defensive end Gaelin Elmore. (That’s five.)
That left two unblocked defenders. That’s where Wadley's skill comes in. The junior’s burst to the gaping hole was too quick for linebacker Jack Lynn to recover. (That’s six.)
The one man to beat was safety Jacob Huff. And Wadley showed why he's a play-maker. He skipped through Huff’s diving attempt and high-stepped the final 10 yards into the end zone.
“Line did a great job blocking, clearing it out,” Wadley said. “… I (saw) daylight. All I had to do was beat one man. And it was off to the races.”
Textbook execution. There had to be smiles watching this one Sunday in offensive line coach Brian Ferentz's film room.
Credit for Bo
ESPN2 color analyst Anthony Becht, working his third Iowa game in four weeks, passed along a notable observation from Minnesota offensive coordinator Jay Johnson.
“There’s three guys I’m worried about on this (Iowa) defense,” Becht reported Johnson as saying. “It’s all three linebackers: (Nos.) 41, 43 and 44.”
That, in order, would be Bo Bower, Josey Jewell and Ben Niemann.
Bower played one of his most impactful games as a Hawkeye on Saturday. The junior from West Branch not only led Iowa with seven tackles, but he was directly involved in creating two turnovers.
The first one was easy to see, his ball-chop tackle on Rodney Smith forcing a fumble that Brandon Snyder recovered in the first quarter.
The second, he received no official credit.
With Minnesota trailing 14-7 on its next-to-last possession, Bower disrupted Minnesota receiver Drew Wolitarsky on his pass route, allowing Snyder to step in front of Mitch Leidner’s second-and-10 pass for the interception.
Maybe Bower got away with some extra contact downfield, but it wasn’t called.
“The pick, Bo got an unbelievable jam on him,” Snyder said. “He couldn’t run his route. He couldn’t get out of his cut. The ball just ended up in my lap. It was set up by him.”
Bower has been an easy-to-blame target for Iowa’s poor run defense to start the season, but on this day, he deserved lots of credit — even if it wasn’t all on the stat sheet.
A welcomed defensive adjustment
Iowa’s defensive coaches found a way to get their best player, King, more involved. And they did it via true freshman cornerback Manny Rugamba.
Iowa abandoned its “Raider” look on third-and-medium/long passing downs against the Gophers, instead inserting Rugamba (for Bower) as a nickel back and — for the most part — matching up King on Wolitarsky, Minnesota’s best receiver.
And the one time Rugamba (6-foot, 172 pounds) found himself manned up on Wolitarsky (6-3, 220), he made Minnesota pay. Rugamba cut in front of Wolitarsky for his first career interception late in the second quarter.
“He understands now what it takes to make a good play for our defense,” King said.
Rugamba played 14 snaps Saturday, including nine in the fourth quarter.
And it allowed King (5-11, 203) to make more of an impact, a departure from the practice of assigning him to the best receiver on his half of the field.
Smart adjustment by Iowa. Let’s see if King gets more one-on-one opportunities this week with talented Purdue senior receiver DeAngelo Yancey (6-2, 205), and maybe ends his streak of 11 games without an interception.
Charting the tight ends
This week’s DVR charting exercise examined Iowa’s tight ends. Developing a No. 2 option behind Kittle at that position has been a storyline since August.
Kittle played all of Iowa’s 72 offensive snaps. That’s not unusual. But what about the 37 times when Iowa used multiple tight ends?
The depth chart and snap counts say that Peter Pekar is No. 2, but the junior walk-on has yet to catch a pass this season and has barely been targeted. True freshman Noah Fant’s elevated usage caught my eye Saturday, making this worth a closer look.
Pekar: Played 31 snaps that netted 104 Hawkeye yards. Of those, 24 were rushing plays for 85 yards. He was effective in run blocking and pass protection but was to blame for a false-start penalty. You could argue Pekar’s entry into the game is a “tell” for run calls, but double tight ends often are a tell for run calls.
Fant: Played six snaps that netted two yards. Four of his snaps were passing calls, including his only first-half action when he was targeted for a deep Beathard pass up the right sideline. Fant almost came down with the ball, which would’ve gained about 30 yards, but Minnesota’s Jalen Myrick knocked it away. Fant hauled in a 4-yard red-zone catch in the third quarter, but he was also on the field when Iowa allowed its only sack of the day.
Bottom line: Iowa is bringing Fant (6-5, 220) along. Teammates and coaches rave about his potential. (“Incredibly fast," Kittle said. “He can do about anything he wants.”) With Jon Wisnieski not making the trip, Fant seems to be on track for a growing role moving forward — maybe even into next year’s starting lineup.
A subtly key moment
Minnesota had just taken a 7-6 lead, sacked Beathard, gotten the ball back and was driving late in the third quarter. Then … the Gophers’ best lineman got hurt.
Behemoth senior right tackle Jonah Pirsig (6-9, 325) suffered a game-ending ankle injury before a key third-and-3 from Iowa’s 41-yard line. The Gophers slid Garrison Wright from left tackle to right and inserted sophomore Donnell Greene at left tackle.
Bower and Parker Hesse stuffed Shannon Brooks on the next play for no gain, forcing a punt and changing momentum. On the first 15 plays after Pirsig’s injury, Minnesota netted 15 yards, an no rushing play went for longer than five yards after Pirsig got hurt.
That’s worth noting, and so is this: For the second straight week — Beathard’s broken knee brace notwithstanding — there were no visuals of Iowa players hobbling to the sidelines. The Hawkeyes should be relatively healthy heading to West Lafayette, Ind., as the second half of the regular season begins.
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 22 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.