Leistikow's final thoughts: Hawkeyes short-handed again as injury list grows

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — After the first of two scheduled idle weekends of the Iowa football season, the 14th-ranked Hawkeyes' injury list actually got longer, not shorter.

Kirk Ferentz dropped that bit of concerning news Tuesday in the lead-up to Saturday's 11 a.m. home game against Middle Tennessee State.

"We're really not making any significant progress or significant news on the injury front," Ferentz said, moments after revealing that starting right guard Kyler Schott would miss several weeks with a foot injury he suffered Sunday during practice.

Schott will be replaced in the lineup by Cole Banwart, a seven-game starter in 2018 who returned to the field (from a leg injury) on a rotational basis in Iowa's 18-17 win at Iowa State. So that one-for-one trade-off isn't a major concern; what is concerning is that the Hawkeyes will continue to be without left tackle Alaric Jackson (a third-year starter); defensive tackle Brady Reiff (a starter); and defensive backs Matt Hankins, Kaevon Merriweather, Julius Brents and Riley Moss (all starters in the past year).

"We're getting closer. But closer to what? Who knows?" Ferentz said. "A lot of ambiguity right now."

So, Iowa will largely trot out the same defense it did against Iowa State. The biggest concern now would be suffering another injury in the secondary before Hankins (hamstring) or Brents (knee) can return.

"It's concerning every week. It was extremely concerning last time we played," Ferentz said. "I looked over today and half our two-deep in the secondary was in street clothes watching practice. But that's football. We're not dwelling on that. We're working with the guys on the field.

"The good thing is it creates opportunity for other players. That's how we've looked at it. ... At some point, we'll get guys back. But it's just been slow."

If there's some good news on the injury front, the guys who have been playing are feeling fresher.

In other words, the idle week helped. 

“My body feels way better than it did after Iowa State, I’ll say that,” starting strong safety Geno Stone said. “… My body feels like it’s Week 1 again."

Another encouraging bit of news is that Jackson seems to be trending well in advance of Iowa's Oct. 5 game at Michigan. That was something offensive line coach Tim Polasek mentioned on our Hawk Central radio show last week, too.

"He is one guy that's making ... an active move forward," Ferentz said. "That's encouraging, and that's just the nature of injuries sometimes. You're kind of stagnant or plateaued and all of the sudden, the guy will take a jump."

A new name on Iowa’s depth chart is Jermari Harris at cornerback.

And last week, defensive coordinator Phil Parker mentioned Dane Belton as coming on strong. Both are true freshmen and names worth watching, considering Iowa's decimated secondary. It wouldn't be a shock to see either guy play against Middle Tennessee; neither has seen game action yet and can play up to four games without losing a year of eligibility.

“Dane, he’s been working at the safety and the cash. He’s another good body that can move around,” starting senior cornerback Michael Ojemudia said. “(Jermari) is a long corner, a really smart guy. He’s coming along faster than other guys. I think if his name is called, he’ll do a good job. He understands the defense.”

Parker showed his players film this week of USC using a third-string quarterback to upend then-No. 11 Utah. The lesson: Be ready if your name is called. It's a good lesson already put into place by the Hawkeyes this year.

“When he puts any one of us in the game,” Ojemudia said, “he expects us to execute.”

Iowa running back Mekhi Sargent played through a wrist injury to make some critical plays in Ames.

One injured Hawkeye who has declared himself healthy: Mekhi Sargent.

One of Tuesday’s best player quotes goes to Iowa’s No. 1 running back. Sargent gutted out a 13-carry, 58-yard performance in Ames despite a significant right wrist injury after a practice fall late in game week.

Sargent said he wasn’t worried about the pain or ball security because he was left-hand dominant and got a good pregame tape job on the wrist. Still, he carried the ball with both hands and took several hard hits in a physical game. He never fumbled.

“There are going to be hits and bumps in the road. You’ve just got to go out and play football,” Sargent said. “I didn’t sign up to be a baby or catered to. Just play football. I was confident going into the game.”

Sargent said the wrist feels “normal” now. That’s good news.

Only at Iowa? The holder for field goals has some hilarious buzz.

Colten Rastetter, Iowa’s punter of the past two years, is now relegated to being Iowa’s holder on placements. But the fifth-year senior has been a bit of an Internet star, along with kicker Keith Duncan, for their on-field games of “rock, paper, scissors.”

You have to watch closely. But after made kicks, Rastetter and Duncan play one rapid-fire match of the game. Cameras have caught on to the matches, which has generated buzz. Rastetter comically threw his head back during the Iowa State game with laughter after he and Duncan both showed “scissors” just before halftime.

Rastetter said the two got the idea for playing watching film of other kickers.

“Their holder and kicker did it, so then we said, ‘Let’s try it.’ (Now) BTN posted a video about it. People are asking me about it,” Rastetter said, smiling all the while. “I’m just glad people are noticing our kicker.”

Indeed, Duncan is 8-for-8 on PATs and 8-for-8 on field goals in the young season. They won’t play the game after a miss; only makes. The ledger is 2-2 on the season. Why only 2-2? A slew of ties. Duncan got off to a 2-0 lead, but Rastetter won a couple in Ames to even the score.

On that note, Duncan said his Christian faith has helped him more than anything with his kicking.

“Kicking free” is Duncan’s mantra this season. He was the Big Ten’s special teams player of the week after a four-field goal game in Ames, and it didn’t seem like the grin has left his face yet.

“Having that trust in God, knowing he’ll provide for you whether you make a kick or miss a kick, that has been the definition of ‘kicking free’ for me,” Duncan said. “That’s been the biggest part of my success this year.”

It’s easy to forget Tyler Linderbaum is just a freshman, considering the way he handled Iowa State’s Ray Lima two Saturdays ago.

The Cyclones’ dominant nose tackle was neutralized by Linderbaum, who was making his third career start. The Solon native spoke about his performance like a never-satisfied veteran Tuesday.

“It was my first big challenge, I would say, given his experience,” Linderbaum said.  “There’s a lot of things that I need to improve on. But it was a good starting point, and I think it’s going to prepare me for the season to come.”

Three games into the season, and it’s clear that Linderbaum is on the short list of Hawkeyes you don’t want to see go down with an injury. He’s been that good.

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.