Leistikow's final thoughts: Hawkeyes defend hit that got Amani Jones suspended

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Three days later, Iowa players still weren’t sure about the targeting call that was called on teammate Amani Jones in the final minute of Saturday’s 48-31 win at Minnesota.

“I don’t want to say we disagreed with the call,” safety Jake Gervase said. “But if I was Amani myself and I was right there, I don’t know what he could have changed. I thought he led with his shoulder. It was just a really hard, violent hit. Football’s a violent, aggressive game.”

Replays showed that Jones made shoulder-to-shoulder contact with Minnesota’s Chris Autman-Bell; not helmet-to-helmet. The call was nonetheless upheld on review.

Jake Gervase (30) thought he could've had this interception in the second quarter at Minnesota; instead, it was an incomplete pass, broken up by teammate Julius Brents (20) and intended for Chris Autman-Bell (3).

Hawkeye players say they’re not being taught to do anything drastically different — maybe aim a little lower to take the guesswork out of officials’ hands. Jones’ hit dislodged the football from Autman-Bell’s hands, forcing an incomplete pass instead of a first down.

“If he had caught the pass and got a first down,” safety Amani Hooker pointed out, “we would’ve gotten yelled at for not hitting him.”

Either way, Jones is suspended for the first half of this Saturday’s game at Indiana (11 a.m., ESPN2). He'll be replaced by Kristian Welch.

It’s a tough break for a junior who lost his starting middle linebacker job in the season opener, got his opportunity back when Jack Hockaday was injured … and now has to watch again. It sounds like he’ll be watching the first half from the Iowa locker room Saturday.

“It’s tough. He’s a light-hearted kid. Always in a good mood,” Gervase said. “From my perspective, that was a really good play by him.”

Gervase joked that he would have intercepted a second-quarter pass thrown by Minnesota’s Zack Annexstad if true freshman teammate Julius Brents wasn’t so darn lanky.

Instead, Brents was credited with a pass breakup.

All good, though. It’s that Brents length (6-foot-2, 180 pounds) that gave a talented Gophers receiving corps problems in the Indianapolis native’s first career start. Brents made a fantastic fourth-quarter interception on a jump ball against Minnesota’s Tyler Johnson.

“He can jam you on the line from what seems like two or three yards away,” Gervase said. “It kind of gives him an advantage, because he can play off a little bit more.”

It’s early. But Brents looks like he has all the makings of being Iowa’s next really good cornerback.

Even though he might not start, cornerback Matt Hankins is expected to return to action Saturday after missing the Minnesota game. He warmed up with a cast around his left wrist but did not play.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said the wrist protector would be "scaled down" this week.

"My first thought on (the cast) was, that's bad; but on the second thought, how many balls has he touched this year anyway.?" Ferentz said. "But it's hard to play without hands out there."

A notable observation, because Hankins has been Iowa's best lock-down corner. If he's able to tackle on the edge, he is too good to keep off the field — even if it's harder to intercept the football.

Statistically, the Iowa offense has taken a big leap forward in the past three games — averaging 456.3 yards against Northern Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota after managing 311.5 in the first two weeks.

Mentally, the progress is apparent, too. It’s encouraging to hear that the concepts of Brian Ferentz’s schemes are making more sense in Year 2 since he replaced the retired Greg Davis as offensive coordinator.

“Everything is just clicking better for guys now,” senior receiver Nick Easley said. “Guys understand not just what their job is, but how they fit into the play or the concept as a whole. Anytime you get the guys to that level of understanding … it helps a lot.”

Iowa's top three receivers (Easley, Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette) are all in their second years in the program, too. That can't be lost on how this is coming together. That trio combined for 14 catches for 198 yards and two touchdowns at Minnesota.

"That was the first time we've all had good games together," Easley said. "We're all focused as a group on taking that and moving forward."

Kirk Ferentz might've been exaggerating Saturday when he said it was the staff against him about whether to call the fake field goal (that worked) now known to everyone as "Herky."

"I was just trying to add to the stereotype," Ferentz said. "I've kind of been typecast, I think, over the last 19 years."

The room chuckled. "New Kirk" went on to say that the play was all about give and take in Friday's pregame meetings. LeVar Woods, the special-teams coordinator, installed it.

"But the other guys have to be on board, too," he said. "It's not that you're always going to be a consensus, but I like to listen to what the coaches are saying, and we want to try to give ourselves every opportunity to win."

Ferentz definitely had the final say. And with fourth-and-goal from the Minnesota 4 and Iowa holding a 14-7 lead, it became a go.

"If I hear enough people saying things that makes me really pay attention and listen a little bit, then I'll definitely consider it," Ferentz said. "We felt like that was a perfect spot for it."