Leistikow's thoughts: Iowa football's plan works to perfection in opening rout of Hoosiers

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY, Ia. — As 18th-ranked Iowa’s 34-6 home dismantling of No. 17 Indiana played out Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, the game plan for the Hawkeyes became obvious. And it couldn’t have gone much better.

No. 1. Get out to a fast start.

Tyler Goodson kick-started his highly anticipated junior season with a 56-yard touchdown sprint on his second carry of the game.

It was 7-0 Hawkeyes within 85 seconds.

Check.

Spencer Petras' 9-yard touchdown run gave Hawkeye fans a scare and a 21-3 lead.

No. 2. Force Michael Penix Jr. into mistakes.

On Indiana’s second snap of the game, Penix oddly shoveled a bobbled ball forward for what was ruled an incomplete pass. On the next play, his flat pass was deflected into the air, with Riley Moss catching the ball and zipping 30 yards into the end zone.

That made it 14-0 in the first 3:15.

Check.

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No. 3. Let Phil Parker’s defense do its thing.

The Hawkeyes bottled up what was supposed to be a high-powered offense. Two more interceptions in the final two minutes of the first half — one by Moss that turned into his second touchdown, from 55 yards, and another by Dane Belton — pushed the Hawkeyes’ halftime lead to 31-3.

Iowa’s offense was honestly nothing to write home about, but don’t get too wound up about that. The whole idea was to protect the football, protect the lead and get a Big Ten Conference win in a top-20 matchup.

Check, check and check.

“It was all three phases. It started with the opening kickoff with Charlie Jones (a 33-yard return)," Iowa quarterback Spencer Petras said. "Obviously, we score pretty quickly and then the pick-six. You can’t write a better start than that. I think we rode that momentum throughout the game. It was just a great team win.”

Petras repeatedly found his favorite target in Sam LaPorta.

Petras’ precision was better early in the game than late, but he certainly found some comfort in his third-year tight end. LaPorta hauled in four first-half catches for 66 yards, including some nice connections in the two-minute drill. LaPorta finished with five grabs for 83 yards; the rest of the team had eight for 62.

“A great tight end like that is a quarterback’s best friend," Petras said.

The Iowa wide receivers weren’t as active as most would’ve expected Saturday. Tyrone Tracy Jr. had just two catches for 15 yards. True freshmen Keagan Johnson and Arland Bruce IV weren’t really a factor in Iowa’s plan, either.

The Hawkeyes seemed to play it safe, especially after getting a big lead. Though Iowa had two running-back fumbles (just like in last year's opener at Purdue), Petras played interception-free. He was 13-for-27 for 145 yards and said afterward Indiana's defense played differently than Iowa expected.

“The best thing we did today offensively is (that) we planned for some other coverages, and we didn’t see them as much as we thought," Petras said. "Being able to adjust on the fly … and get us into good plays; it’s not always easy, but I thought we did a good job of that today.”

Though Iowa finished with only 303 yards, it didn't need to put its foot on the gas and certainly left room for improvement with eighth-ranked Iowa State on deck next week (3:30 p.m. CT, ABC).

Still, as a whole, Iowa scored its most points in a Big Ten opener since it put up 42 against Penn State in the 2002 season. That was a pretty special year.

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Iowa rotated nine defensive linemen in a disruptive, by-committee approach.

One of the primary position areas of concern for the Hawkeyes was more than up to the task from the get-go, with undersized defensive tackle Noah Shannon (6 feet, 289 pounds) stirring things up early. Within the game’s first 10 minutes, eight defensive linemen had played — true to the “by-committee” type of effort this year’s defensive line was supposed to have.

Shannon and Logan Lee got the start at tackle; Yahya Black and Lukas Van Ness got plenty of time, too. In fact, Van Ness got the Hawkeyes’ first sack of the season early in the third quarter.

Zach VanValkenburg held down the right-end spot routinely. John Waggoner started at left end and even moved inside (along with Van Ness) on third-and-long snaps. Joe Evans and Deontae Craig were out there, too. Ethan Hurkett got some second-quarter action and pressured backup quarterback Jack Tuttle in the fourth.

"We had a lot of guys today playing, and we wanted to go out there and do our job," Waggoner said. "I think it was a good first step, but we have a lot to improve on."

What was most impressive was that Iowa’s defensive line was constantly well-positioned. No matter who was in the game, it didn’t seem like holes lasted long. That’s good coaching, and it’s representative of what we’ve heard from Kirk Ferentz — that he likes this group, but he needed to see them play. They passed their first test.

And as the game wound down, it was clear the Hawkeyes’ incredible streak would continue. They’ve now held 23 straight opponents to 24 or fewer points, dating back to a 31-28 win in the 2018 regular-season finale against Nebraska.

Seven offensive linemen rotated, too, and Tyler Linderbaum avoided a scare.

Kinnick Stadium got awfully quiet after one of the game’s most exciting offensive plays — a beautifully designed quarterback draw that saw Petras leap and get spun by a tackler as he crossed the goal line from 9 yards out to give Iowa a 21-3 lead. That was a play that offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz liked in the red zone all week, and he pulled it out at a good time.

 The silence was for Tyler Linderbaum, the all-American center who was face down in the end zone and seemingly frozen on the turf for a nervous amount of time.

Linderbaum eventually got up, slowly made his way to the medical tent and emerged just in time to return to the field for Iowa’s next second-quarter series. Linderbaum said he took a helmet to his left thigh, nothing that was going to keep the tough guy from Solon out of the lineup. ("It'll heal up fast," he said.)

He did have a wrap around his left knee after the game. 

"I’m just happy I’m OK," Linderbaum said. "I’m happy I was able to finish the game.”

The rest of Iowa’s offensive line was a mystery entering Saturday. The run game exploded with Goodson’s 56-yard touchdown run around right tackle Nick DeJong on the day’s fourth offensive snap, probably a pretty pleasing start for first-year offensive line coach George Barnett.

On the line, redshirt freshman Mason Richman got the start at left tackle and was there most of the game. Cody Ince was a fixture at left guard, next to Linderbaum. Iowa juggled Justin Britt and true freshman Connor Colby at right guard. DeJong was spelled at times by Jack Plumb, who also got time at left tackle. Before the game, Ferentz even seemed curious what he would see.

“I like the group. They’re a good group of guys,” Ferentz said on pregame radio, “I’m just not sure how they’ll react and play.”

I'm sure it wasn't super-pleasing that after Goodson had 60 yards on his first two carries, he had 39 on his next 17.

Let’s just say this was a good start, and they’ll get another (big) test next week in Ames.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 26 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.