Leistikow's 4 thoughts: Terry Roberts ready to replace Riley Moss; Tyler Linderbaum for Heisman?

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

IOWA CITY — Jack Koerner said he allowed the Hawkeye fan inside of him to relish Saturday’s Iowa football victory against then-No. 4 Penn State. The fifth-year senior free safety played a big part — he had one of four Hawkeye interceptions in the 23-20, come-from-behind win.

Koerner also spent enough time enjoying the aftermath on social media that he saw the narrative that Iowa only won this game because Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford was knocked out in the second quarter. To which Koerner takes a page from a famous quote from his head coach: That’s football.

“I’ve been on Twitter. I’ve seen some of that stuff,” Koerner said. “People can say whatever they want about who played and who didn’t. At the end of the day, football is football. It’s about who wins.”

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Middle linebacker Jack Campbell said that, yeah, absolutely he had the mindset of attacking Clifford — who was instrumental in helping Penn State take a 17-3 lead. Campbell found himself unblocked on a third-and-7 blitz with 12 minutes, 38 seconds left in the second quarter and took advantage. The 6-foot-5, 243-pound Campbell socked Clifford in the rib cage area at full speed, and the veteran QB could not return.

That’s football.

“I knew where their slide (in pass protection) was going. I had an opportunity to take a free shot,” Campbell said. “And I just tried to make it as clean as possible. I just tried my hardest to hit him as hard as I could. That quarterback was a very talented guy.”

Iowa, now ranked No. 2 in the country, doesn’t apologize for its style of defense and nor should it. It’s a defense that gets statistically better as the game goes on. When backup Ta’Quan Roberson came into the game for the first time, Iowa’s offense already had cut the score to 17-10.

Iowa's second-half defensive numbers have been incredible this season: 20 points allowed on 45 possessions with 23 punts forced and 14 turnovers (including six on downs).

Behind the less-experienced Roberson, Penn State scored three second-half points … which is the season average for Iowa opponents.

The Hawkeyes’ second-half defensive numbers are mind-boggling. The reason: Adjustments. 

Koerner said every week, defensive coordinator Phil Parker and his staff make smart halftime tweaks that bottle up opposing offenses.

“When it gets to the game and we see what they’re trying to do, our coaches are the best in the country at recognizing what exactly they’re trying to do and the best way to stop it,” Koerner said. “We made a lot of great second-half adjustments against Penn State."

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For the season, Iowa has allowed 20 points on 45 second-half possessions. That’s 0.44 points per possession and 3.33 per game. Iowa is holding teams to 2.51 yards per carry in the second half. Opposing quarterbacks are 48-for-102 for 396 yards (that’s 3.88 per attempt).

The only two second-half touchdowns Iowa has allowed came with big leads (at Iowa State, at Maryland). It allowed only second-half field goals to Indiana and Penn State. That's four scores, 23 punts, eight turnovers, one missed field goal and six turnovers on downs against Iowa's second-half defense.

The defense will have a pregame adjustment this week: No Riley Moss.

The Big Ten Conference and co-national leader in interceptions (with four) won’t be available Saturday after suffering what appeared to be a left-knee injury in the second quarter against Penn State. Iowa got good news that Moss’ injury wouldn’t be season-ending, though. Coach Kirk Ferentz said Moss did not require surgery and "we'll get him back in a couple weeks, hopefully."

After Saturday’s 2:30 p.m Homecoming game against Purdue, Iowa gets its only off week of the regular season. Moss would have 21 days between his injury and the Oct. 30 game at Wisconsin. The hope his he’ll have a shot to play then.

The good news for Iowa is that his replacement, Terry Roberts, has a lot of respect among coaches and peers. The feeling is that he’ll be just fine in his first career start. The fourth-year junior from Erie, Pennsylvania, filled in nicely for Moss against the Nittany Lions.

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“It’s the way that he goes about his business in practice,” Koerner said of his confidence in Roberts. “Obviously the whole country has been seeing what he’s been doing on special teams.

“We’ve been seeing it all year, all during camp, in practice. He’s proven he’s ready to step into that role, and we’re confident in him.”

Pro Football Focus rates Moss and Matt Hankins — who was named the Bronko Nagurski national defensive player of the week Tuesday — as the top two cornerbacks in the country. But Iowa is confident there won’t be drop-off in Roberts. Obviously against a pass-happy team like Purdue, the Moss injury does stretch Iowa’s depth. If another injury crops up, the next two cornerbacks on the depth chart are Jermari Harris and UNI transfer Xavior Williams.

Nationally, there is a dearth of obvious Heisman Trophy candidates. Why not Tyler Linderbaum?

At least one prominent national college football writer shares that thought. Ralph Russo of The Associated Press on Monday retweeted Pro Football Focus’ mind-boggling ratings of Linderbaum, Iowa’s all-American center. The graphic showed Linderbaum has the No. 1, No. 2, No. 1 and No. 1 run-blocking grade in the country over the past four weeks. To which Russo tweeted: “Y’all think I’m kidding about this. #Linderbaum4Heisman … C’mon, Iowa.”

He’ll get no argument from fifth-year senior left guard Kyler Schott of Iowa. Schott has played with first-round NFL Draft pick Tristan Wirfs. He said Linderbaum is the best offensive lineman he’s been around.

“If there’s ever a center to win it, it should be him. He’s the best I’ve seen,” Schott said. “And off the field, he’s a Heisman, too.”

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Realistically, Lindebaum has a 0.00001% chance to win college football’s highest individual award. History shows it goes to a quarterback, running back or wide receiver. An offensive lineman hasn’t finished in the top 10 of the Heisman voting since 2001; the highest finish by a pure offensive lineman was in 1973, when Ohio State’s John Hicks was runner-up to John Cappelletti.

But still … with no runaway midseason Heisman player nationally, Linderbaum is the best player on the No. 2-ranked team in the country. His reputation combined with highlight-reel blocks and Iowa's team success might at least get him in the conversation for some votes.

Was Penn State faking injuries on Saturday?

Ferentz is the longest-tenured active coach in college football. He wouldn’t have said what he said about booing injuries at Tuesday’s news conference without some certainty of the situation. One video clip shared after the game showed Iowa special-teams coordinator LeVar Woods trying to get officials' attention by intentionally falling to the ground. 

“Our fans aren’t stupid. They’re watching, they know what’s going on,” Ferentz said. “I’ve been here 23 years. I think that’s only the second time we’ve seen that kind of stuff going on.”

It is a safe bet that the other game Ferentz was referencing was 2011 vs. Michigan State, when defensive tackle Jerel Worthy essentially admitted afterward that he and other Spartans were going down to get a free timeout and slow Iowa’s momentum.

But back to Saturday. Here were the three main beefs that Iowa fans had:

  • Safety Jaquan Brisker forced an injury timeout after a 20-yard Tyler Goodson run in the first quarter. He missed one play and returned to play the rest of the game.
  • Defensive tackle Dvon Ellies went down one play after a 22-yard pass to wide receiver Nico Ragaini in the second quarter; he returned to action in the second half.
  • Defensive end Arlong Ebiketie went down after an 18-yard Goodson run in the third quarter and returned on the same drive. That is when Fox broadcaster Joel Klatt also brought up the curious timing of the injuries.

It’s worth mentioning here that Ferentz’s son-in-law, Tyler Barnes, was the director of player personnel at Vanderbilt during James Franklin’s three years as coach there. Barnes is Iowa’s recruiting director now; Franklin coaches Penn State.

“There are two people in our building who have been places where ‘scuba’ and ‘turtle’ were the code words. So, it goes on,” Ferentz said. “We don’t coach it. Haven’t really been exposed to it. But our fans thought they smelled a rat, I guess. I don’t know. They responded the way they responded."

Franklin denied that the Nittany Lions were intentionally diving and said he had "a hard time" with his injured players being booed.

"To all of the Iowa people out there, it was not part of our plan. It would not be. You don't run a tempo offense," Franklin said. "We had some guys get injured, and I just don't know if I necessarily agree. I don't think that's the right thing for college football, booing guys when they get hurt, however it looks."

My sense: There's no love lost between the coaching staffs (or fan bases) at Iowa and Penn State. Here's guessing that this topic isn't done. Especially if Iowa and Penn State get a rematch in the Dec. 4 Big Ten title game. 

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.