Leistikow's final thoughts from Minnesota: Iowa's latest great fake; Brandon Smith arrives
MINNEAPOLIS — As the players on Iowa’s field-goal unit trotted onto the field, they heard the magic word.
And the fake was on.
With fourth-and-goal from Minnesota’s 4-yard line and the Hawkeyes ahead 14-7 in the second quarter, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz authorized a play that had been worked on extensively this week in practice.
“They convinced me,” Ferentz said. “I guess it was however many guys on our staff against one.”
The latest creation of special-teams coach LeVar Woods was the talk of postgame interviews.
Long snapper Jackson Subbert was the triggerman after holder Colten Rastetter called for the offensive line to shift — seven Hawkeyes to the right, one (Nate Wieting) to the left. That left Subbert alone over the ball at center, and Rastetter and kicker Miguel Recinos in the backfield.
When they saw how Minnesota’s players adjusted, the Hawkeyes knew they had a touchdown.
“Once we got the look,” Subbert said. “We had a good feeling it was going to go in.”
Minnesota left six players over center to match four mostly non-threats for Iowa — leaving a 7-on-5 Hawkeyes advantage on the right. Subbert flung the ball with his left hand — he’s a lefty — to tight end T.J. Hockenson, who was a step back from the line of scrimmage. Hockenson caught the ball, spun and scored standing up around the right end for an improbable 4-yard touchdown.
“(Sam) Brincks did a real good job on the outside guy,” Hockenson said.
Just like it was drawn up.
But, perhaps comically, not like it looked in the pregame dress rehearsal.
“(Woods) saw me warm up in the locker room,” Subbert said, “and I think I threw one over their heads.”
“Herky” may never replace last year’s legendary fake field goal called “Polecat” against Ohio State — in which Rastetter threw to long snapper Tyler Kluver for an 18-yard gain. But this one was clutch, and special.
Kluver texted his successor after the game to congratulate him on a job well done.
“He was pumped,” Subbert said. “He was excited to see that it worked.”
And just like that, another Iowa long snapper became an unlikely star in a 48-31 win over the Gophers.
This is the Brandon Smith that we’ve been hearing about.
The sophomore from Mississippi doubled his season total in catches Saturday by hauling in a career-best five receptions for 68 yards. The leaping 26-yarder he made over Terrell Smith (who was also flagged for pass interference on the play) was a “wow” moment.
“I thought he played like he belonged on the varsity,” Ferentz said. “He used his size a little bit and did some good things blocking, and obviously making plays. I think that whole group is gaining ground right now … and that’s great to see.”
Smith has no doubt gotten a lot of hype for his imposing size (6-foot-3, 219 yards) and practice performances that have had teammates and coaches raving. He’s feeling more comfortable as the games go on. Remember, he played sparingly as a freshman.
“I feel a lot more comfortable the more reps I get, the more games I play,” he said. “The offense is doing really good. I really like how the passing game showed up today.”
Ihmir Smith-Marsette was once a Gopher commit. Saturday, he was a Gopher problem.
The speedy Iowa sophomore scored on a 60-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter, but he may have made an even bigger play in the second half.
After Minnesota had sliced Iowa's lead to 31-24, he sprinted and spun his way for a streaking 49-yard kickoff return up the left sideline. An emphatic answer to restore Hawkeye momentum.
A nine-play, 51-yard drive was capped by Nate Stanley finding Noah Fant for a 5-yard touchdown on third-and-goal.
“I was kind of disappointed in myself for not taking it to the end zone," Smith-Marsette said. "But it provided a spark for the offense.”
Indeed it did. And it was one of the key plays of the game.
The sacks keep on coming.
Iowa matched a season high with five sacks; three by Anthony Nelson, one by Chauncey Golston and one by Amani Jones. That makes 18 for the season through five games; a pace for 47 for a 13-game season. The Hawkeyes had 29 last year.
As much as Iowa's defensive personnel keeps rotating, the ability of this defensive line to get home continues to impress.
Where was the running game?
Ivory Kelly-Martin gained nine yards on eight first-quarter carries, with a long run of three. For the game, Iowa rushed for 106 yards on 40 attempts, just 2.7 per carry.
But it's not a reason for concern.
Minnesota was crowding the line of scrimmage, an aggressive scheme that dared Stanley to win this one through the air. And he did (23-for-39, 314 yards, four TDs).
Who starts at middle linebacker for the Hawkeyes next week against Indiana?
“That’s a great question,” Ferentz said. “We’ve got a week to figure it out.”
Starter Jack Hockaday is possibly sidelined for a while with a knee injury he suffered Saturday. His replacement, Jones, will be suspended for the first half at Indiana after being ejected for a targeting penalty late in the fourth quarter.
My guess: It’ll be Kristian Welch in the middle, flanked by Djimon Colbert and Barrington Wade. Maybe the staff also fast-tracks freshman Dillon Doyle, one of seven linebackers to travel here Saturday.
But one of the encouraging developments Saturday: Jones looked like the Jones that earned the starting job in the offseason — not the one who lost it with a forgettable first quarter against Northern Illinois.
Despite playing only half the game, Jones led the Hawkeyes with nine tackles, two for lost yardage. He looked good and could become Iowa’s middle linebacker for the season if Hockaday gets bad news from his Sunday MRI.
“It’s not good,” Ferentz said. “… We don’t think it’s unstable. That’s a good sign. We’ll know (Sunday) afternoon.”
By the way: Amani Hooker's a good linebacker, too. Hooker, Iowa's starting strong safety, was essentially an outside linebacker for much of Saturday's game.
It was an adjustment defensive coordinator Phil Parker teased way back in the spring. It was a creative way to use the talents of one of Iowa's best players while leaning on the strength of the safety position, where Jake Gervase and Geno Stone held down the fort.
"Being a strong safety, you have to know every position, especially the outside linebacker," Hooker said. "Because that’s who I’m mainly talking to, other than the corners. I have to understand what he’s doing, and how he can help me out, so it’s a pretty easy transition."
Final thoughts from P.J. Fleck?
The second-year Minnesota coach said this: "We got beat by a much more mature football team, and you have to take your hat off to them."
Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 24 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.