Leistikow's DVR Monday: Aggressive offense, better blocking highlight Iowa's 51-point night

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Spencer Petras and the Iowa offense had some fun under the Friday-night lights in Maryland, piling up 50-plus points for the first time since 2018.

Riley Moss said the Iowa defense was playing like it was “recess” on the way to a seven-turnover day.

After the Hawkeyes’ 51-14 dismantling of the previously unbeaten Terrapins, there was much to enjoy. Even Kirk Ferentz acknowledged his team (now No. 3 in the country, matching the highest ranking of his 23-year tenure) was playing at a “high level.”

So, this week’s video review is quite complimentary as well.

Aggressive play-calling in the third quarter continues a season adjustment from Brian Ferentz.

A 48-yard pass to Nico Ragaini completion late against Kent State sprung to mind when rewatching this game. That was the first time it felt like Iowa’s offensive coordinator decided he was done slamming the run game into a stacked box with a comfortable second-half lead. On Friday, Brian Ferentz maintained aggression even with a 34-7 halftime lead — and it was nice to see.

Two of Ferentz’s favorite play calls keyed both second-half touchdowns.

No. 1: The 67-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Goodson. It worked earlier in the game for 18 yards, so why not go with it again? With Goodson lined up to Petras’ right in a shotgun set, the fleet running back was able to get into a one-on-one matchup with a linebacker. With an athlete like Goodson, one juke on his defender got him open and another in space sprung him for the long TD.

Colorado State had trouble in man-to-man coverage last week, and Maryland did, too. This is a huge step forward for Iowa’s offense … to show that it can make defenses pay for being too aggressive against the run game.

"We trust our guys to get open, whether that's to the boundary (short-side from the hash mark) or to the field (far-side). And I think I have the arm strength to get the ball to the field," Petras said afterward. "It's about getting good matchups. Where are the good matchups? At that point, it's just about execution."

More:How true freshmen Arland Bruce IV and Keegan Johnson are expanding Iowa football's offense

No. 2: The bootleg passes to tight end Sam LaPorta. Maryland consistently crashed inside with its defensive ends, allowing three Petras-to-LaPorta completions in what is a staple wrinkle to Iowa’s outside-zone run game — one in the first half for 16 yards, then two on Iowa’s final scoring drive of 12 and 11 yards. That's practically a free 3-for-3, 39-yard stat line for Petras. Each time, LaPorta starts a step behind the line of scrimmage on the left, then sneaks out to the right into wide open space cleared out by receivers.

Fittingly, another bootleg pass finished the night for Petras. This time, it was Tyrone Tracy Jr., who was in motion behind the line of scrimmage and snuck out to the right for a 7-yard touchdown on a bootleg. As Fox’s Spencer Tillman said, “I tell you what, that’s a clinic right there.”

That gave Iowa its 51st point with 14:18 remaining and allowed little used backups Alex Padilla and Deuce Hogan to get some work the rest of the way. Iowa's second-half aggression paid off in that way, too.

Spencer Petras went 21-for-30 for 259 yards with the help of excellent route-runners and good pass protection.

It was a good day for the offensive line.

Considering last week’s DVR Monday was critical of the guard and tackle play against Colorado State, it's important to commend the O-line for taking a clear step forward.

Some takeaways …

Mason Richman needed a decisive game like this. The freshman left tackle was excellent in the run game. A great example came on Iowa’s second drive, as Richman flattened defensive end Lawtez Rogers on an outside-zone play to the left, allowing Goodson to run for 13 clean yards. He continues to play every key down at left tackle for the Hawkeyes.

Nick DeJong’s strength was on display. DeJong relentlessly punished his defensive end to the ground on Iowa’s second play of the second half, allowing Petras to make one of his quietly best plays of the night. After not liking his initial read, Petras bought extra time by sliding outside the pocket to the right … and found Charlie Jones (hustling back to the play) for 11 yards on second-and-11. It was a good example of Petras’ progress/comfort in the pocket. And he could only do that because DeJong held down the fort on the right side. DeJong (40 snaps) gave way to Jack Plumb (43) at right tackle in the third quarter. 

More:Iowa postgame mailbag: Still concerned about Spencer Petras? And is anyone on Phil Parker's level?

Kyler Schott has indeed bolstered the guard rotation. Schott’s third game back from a broken foot was his most active. Schott delivered a key seal block on Ivory Kelly-Martin’s 16-yard run that set up a field goal just before halftime. The fifth-year senior knows what he's doing out there.

Who are Iowa’s best two guards? Schott started and played 43 snaps, all at left guard; Cody Ince played 26. Connor Colby played 39 snaps at right guard and three at left. Justin Britt got 42 snaps as the backup right guard. Colby responded very well to last week’s tough game. Britt allowed one sack but was good in the run game. Ince had a great double block on Kelly-Martin’s 27-yard run. I think Schott is a clear stabilizer, and it’s too close to call between the other three. Seems like the rotation will continue.

Interceptions are always team efforts. Let’s look at all six.

Iowa’s first six-interception game as a defense since 1982 vs. Wisconsin deserves a closer examination.

No. 1: First quarter, Riley Moss. The Ankeny Centennial product can thank Dowling Catholic alum John Waggoner, who came on a stunt off a four-man rush to apply pressure on Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa, Iowa was in its usual Cover-2 zone on third-and-6, and Moss just read Tagovailoa’s eyes and "sat and sank" (his words) to help on the corner route. The underthrown ball hit Moss in the chest, and he collected it for his ninth career pick.

No. 2: Second quarter, Jack Koerner. From one Jack to another … middle linebacker Jack Campbell had only three tackles Friday (down from 18 one week earlier), but his read of this deep middle pass to tight end Corey Dyches was brilliant. He retreated into the passing lane and jumped with his 6-foot-5 frame to get the deflection, and Koerner had perhaps the easiest of his five career interceptions.

No. 3: Second quarter, Dane Belton. Jestin Jacobs was on the field in a 4-3 look, sliding Belton from cash to safety. Jacobs did a good job with his assignment on underneath coverage, and Belton was stellar in pass coverage and essentially boxed out Dyches for his second career pick. This was a great visual example of how Iowa’s team defense doesn’t give opposing quarterbacks many throwing options.

No. 4: Second quarter, Terry Roberts. Nothing fancy here, just some prevent defense on the half’s final Hail Mary play. Waggoner and Joe Evans hurried a wobbly throw from Tagovailoa, and Roberts elevated for his first career interception. Roberts’ interception serves as a reminder that when Iowa’s defensive backs get a chance at a pick, they usually catch it.

No. 5: Fourth quarter, Kaevon Merriweather. With Jermari Harris on the coverage of an over-the-middle throw, Merriweather made a lunge into the passing lane to collect his first career interception. That ended the night for Tagovailoa, who completed 11 of his first 14 passes for 106 yards, then 5-for-15 with four interceptions and just 51 yards to finish. Iowa didn't have a single sack but frustrated the Maryland QB with its oppressive pass coverage.

More:Leistikow: Kirk Ferentz really likes this Iowa football team. It's easy to see why

No. 6: Fourth quarter, Quinn Schulte. The backup to Koerner got help from backup safety Reggie Bracy in coverage and grabbed the deep attempt from backup Maryland QB Reece Udinski. After his first career interception, Schulte picked up a really nice block from backup linebacker Jay Higgins on his 42-yard return.

Iowa backup free safety Quinn Schulte (30) could be the heir apparent to Jack Koerner.

What else did we learn from the rewatch?

Luke Lachey is becoming a mean finisher. Maybe the backup tight end is inspired by Tyler Linderbaum? Lachey drove his man across the field and into the Iowa sideline on LaPorta’s early 16-yard catch. There were other examples (including on special teams) that show the freshman is developing an aggression that the tight-end position requires.

Iowa’s defensive backs can really tackle. Koerner made a sensational touchdown-saving sprint and tackle on Tagovailoa in the third quarter. Matt Hankins made a physical stop to force a third-and-1 along the sidelines. Moss made several good wrap-up tackles in space against talented Terps. The interceptions get them attention, but their tackling has been superb all season.

Some love for the backups? Admittedly in Maryland, my head was down in the fourth quarter, working on my columns. It was nice to see the film and see who stood out. At the top of my list was Sebastian Castro, who was Belton's backup at the cash position and delivered some fundamentally sound tackles. And it was nice to see No. 3 tight end Josiah Miamen's crisp route producing his first career catch, for 22 yards.

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.