Leistikow's DVR Monday: Promising young players emerge in Iowa's opening win
In his opening statement following Iowa’s 34-6 rout of Indiana in Saturday’s season opener on Duke Slater Field at Kinnick Stadium, Kirk Ferentz itemized two things that made him happy.
His veteran players showed up and played good football.
Better yet, so did some of the youngsters, particularly at the two biggest question-mark positions for Iowa on the offensive and defensive lines.
“Anxious to see the film, see how they looked technically,” Ferentz said. “But from the sideline looked like we held our own on both sides and gave us a chance to play good football.”
Well, coach, let’s look at the film in the 2021 season’s first installment of DVR Monday, with special focus on some of the Hawkeye newcomers.
Not there yet, but three first-time starters on the offensive line had bright moments.
It was eye-opening that Iowa’s first two offensive-line units in warmups included five freshmen among seven players who had never started a college game.
Three players now have their first starts. How’d they fare?
Mason Richman, left tackle. It was telling that the redshirt freshman from Kansas played as many snaps (61) as center Tyler Linderbaum and left guard Cody Ince. Ferentz spoke after the game how Richman (6-foot-6, 296 pounds) accepts coaching and improves.
“The other thing that impressed me during camp was that if he had a rough day and (defensive end Zach) VanValkenburg gave him fits, he would come the next day and take the challenge. He wouldn’t go into retreat,” Ferentz said. “You never know what's going to happen, but that is a positive step, and he's got to feel better about himself right now.”
Richman looked like a veteran at times. On his ninth college snap, a second-and-12 with Spencer Petras in shotgun, Richman deftly took out two Hoosiers on the same protection — first taking care of bull-rusher Alfred Bryant (pushing him inside to Ince), then delivering a powerful hit to stunting 307-pound Demarcus Elliott. That left a clean pocket for Petras, who zipped a ball over the middle to Luke Lachey for 15 yards.
Justin Britt, right guard. With Kyler Schott (fractured foot) likely out for next week’s game at Iowa State, it was encouraging to see Britt (6-4, 302) get better as the game went on. No, it wasn’t a banner rushing day for the Hawkeyes but it wasn’t bad, either, against an aggressive Indiana defense (36 carries, 158 yards, two sacks allowed). And on film, the Hoosiers’ front seven played very well.
Overall, Britt’s run-blocking was solid and forceful, including on Petras’ 9-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. The redshirt sophomore logged 49 of Iowa’s 64 snaps and likely earned another start this Saturday in Ames (3:30 p.m. CT, ABC).
Nick DeJong, right tackle. The redshirt sophomore will one day look back and laugh at his first snap as a starter. He whiffed on a low block attempt and face-planted to the turf; but Petras connected with Sam LaPorta for a quick seven yards anyway. But three plays later, DeJong (6-6, 292) was a key figure in Tyler Goodson's 56-yard touchdown run. DeJong first picked up Bryant at the line of scrimmage (and let Lachey take it from there), then moved up field to clean out linebacker Cam Jones. That cleared the right sideline for Goodson, who sped for the score just 85 seconds into the season.
One example of DeJong’s effective pass protection stood out: Late in the first half, edge rusher Ryder Anderson lined up extra wide to the left. At the snap, DeJong’s footwork was quick to the right, pushing Anderson behind the play to give Petras a clean pocket for a 19-yard strike to LaPorta. That put Iowa in field-goal range to finish a dominant 31-3 first half. DeJong played 52 snaps, ceding a few reps to Jack Plumb.
It should be mentioned that true freshman Connor Colby was given 15 snaps, including 12 in rotational duty at right guard and three at right tackle. He paved the way on Ivory Kelly-Martin’s 22-yard run that resulted in a fumble. Once harnessed, the aggressive style of Colby (6-6, 298) will pay off. Coaches will want to see more Colby when possible going forward.
Give Iowa defensive coaches credit for changing their approach.
This Iowa defensive line may not be the dominant unit we’ve seen the last three years with the likes of Anthony Nelson, A.J. Epenesa, Chauncey Golston and Daviyon Nixon winning one-on-one matchups to get to the quarterback. But there were examples of strength in numbers Saturday.
Iowa rotated nine defensive linemen in the first two quarters, with at least four guys swinging inside and outside depending on the down and distance. Defensive coordinator Phil Parker looks to be compensating for the lack of elite pass rushers with fresh legs. How the snaps broke down, plus commentary:
Zach VanValkenburg, 48 snaps — Didn't have the stats but was Iowa's most disruptive force of the day, especially in holding the edge against the Indiana run (31 attempts, 77 yards).
John Waggoner, 42 snaps — Played a heavy first-half workload opposite VanValkenburg; finished with a workmanlike four tackles, including 1½ for loss.
Logan Lee, 28 snaps — May be undersized for a tackle (6-5, 277) but clogged up running lanes anyway in his first career start and was credited with three tackles.
Noah Shannon, 27 snaps — One of the D-line’s pleasant surprises. Gobbled up double teams, made four tackles and got consistent backfield pressure in his first career start.
Lukas Van Ness, 35 snaps — Was used as a third-down pass rusher early and got a heavy workload late. The redshirt freshman logged Iowa’s only sack (for nine yards) on a third-quarter effort play.
Yahya Black, 25 snaps — The big redshirt freshman (6-5, 287) was usually paired with Van Ness inside. He was pushed back off the ball at times but got better as the game went on. Remember, he’s been dealing with minor injuries.
Deontae Craig, 21 snaps — The redshirt freshman defensive end got some good second-half usage and looked sturdy in his debut.
Ethan Hurkett, 15 snaps — Took over for VanValkenburg and stood out at right end, registering three tackles and a hurry in limited action.
Joe Evans, 9 snaps — Was used as a third-down rusher and created an important turnover (more below).
One "effort" win for the D-line: After Iowa had taken a 28-3 lead on Riley Moss’ second interception-return touchdown, the four-man rush of Craig and Evans (on the outside) and Van Valkenburg and Van Ness (on the inside) got significant push, flustering Penix in the pocket. Evans chased down Penix to the left, stride for stride, and forced him into a tough throw that was picked off by Dane Belton.
Also notable Saturday: Parker rushed four all day and refused to blitz. He was content in his front four doing enough to let his back seven make plays. That should make Hawkeye fans feel good about where the by-committee defensive line stands after Week 1.
Petras’ numbers should have been better; not all of it was his fault.
After analyzing the performance of Iowa’s junior quarterback, he was really good with on-schedule throws to his first- or second-reads. If the play went off script, it didn’t go so well.
Petras’ final stat line Saturday was 13-for-27 (48.1%) for 145 yards, or just 5.4 yards per attempt (way off the pace of 7.0 or better you’d expect to see).
My breakdown had Petras making 17 good passes, four throw-aways and six bad passes. Four of his good passes should have been caught — LaPorta had two drops; Jackson Ritter got his hands on his only target; and Nico Ragaini dropped a sure first down.
Petras was probably more deserving of a 17-for-27 day (63.0%) for closer to 185 yards. But two of his bad throws did cost Iowa big plays.
In the second quarter, Ivory Kelly-Martin was running wide open in the second quarter on a beautiful play design by offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, but Petras didn’t set his feet and the throw came up 10 yards short of what could have been a possible 30-plus-yard completion. Petras looked to the sideline and smiled at Ferentz, knowing he made a mistake. The drive stalled, and Iowa punted.
A throw on the first play of the fourth quarter to an uncovered Tyrone Tracy Jr. up the right sideline should have been an easy 40-yard touchdown. But Petras undershot Tracy, who made a nice diving catch just to get nine yards.
Still, six bad throws and no interceptions should not be considered an awful day, especially as Iowa was in lead-protect mode. The drops need to be eliminated this week against Iowa State. And Petras needs to convert more improvised plays when things get chaotic.
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.