Leistikow's DVR Monday: Evaluating Alex Padilla's performance and a big defensive-line development

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Upon further review, I'm able to re-confirm that Iowa delivered a good, solid win Saturday at Northwestern.

While there were a few worrisome moments late, the Hawkeyes improved to 7-2 overall and were ranked No. 14 in Sunday's coaches' poll with very meaningful home games on deck against Minnesota (2:30 p.m. CT, Big Ten Network) and Illinois (1 p.m., Fox Sports 1).

For those wondering, head coach Kirk Ferentz answered why he got ultra-conservative on offense with a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, then again with three straight runs and a punt with a five-point lead with just over 2 minutes to go.

Why not throw it? 

“We were confident the defense would be able to hold 'em," Ferentz said afterward.

He was right, as Dane Belton's interception sealed a 17-12 win that was highlighted by a quarterback change. It's there, of course, that we start this week's DVR Monday.

More:Leistikow's thoughts: Alex Padilla provides spark Iowa's offense needed in 17-12 win vs. Northwestern

Putting more scrutiny on new starter Alex Padilla’s relief appearance.

The redshirt sophomore from Greenwood Hills, Colorado, was listed as the No. 1 quarterback on Monday's depth chart, signaling more significant action ahead. When he reviewed his film with coaches Sunday, here is a sampling of what he saw.

The success on over-the-middle throws was something to build on. Quick slants and crossing routes gave Padilla’s quick-release style opportunities for Hawkeye wide receivers to gain yards after the catch. Padilla was 7-for-10 for 90 yards on middle throws, and he should’ve been 8-for-10 for at least 115 if not for Charlie Jones having a perfect throw go right through his hands in the fourth quarter on second-and-13. 

His best throw of the day? While the 26-yarder to Keagan Johnson on his third attempt was gorgeous, a 10-yarder late in the first half to Johnson showed why Padilla has the tools and confidence to make his first start against Minnesota. With 2:02 left in the first half from his own 11-yard line, Padilla rolled out on play-action — one of the few times Iowa let him throw on the move — and gunned a perfect strike to a well-covered Johnson on the right sideline for a first down.

On a related note: On a third-quarter rollout, Tracy was open in the flat but Padilla went with the more aggressive throw over the middle to Arland Bruce IV and completed it for 12 yards. That began Iowa’s field-goal drive. Padilla's small-sample-size knack for taking the most that the defense give (not just the safest play) was another encouraging step.

More touch on screen passes was needed. Padilla brought too much mustard on a first-quarter swing pass to Tyrone Tracy Jr. and a second-quarter screen attempt to Gavin Williams. Probably just some excitement (Padilla admitted to having nerves) and a lack of experience.

Padilla also looked a little indecisive on his one true scramble of the day in 30 drop-backs (18-of-28, 172 yards; two sacks for 8 yards). He rolled left on a third-and-5 from Northwestern's 43 in the third quarter and looked like he couldn't decide whether to run or pass. Once he chose pass, it was too late and off-balance, even though Johnson was open for a first down. 

Overall, it was a good day. Pro Football Focus gave Padilla a grade of 71.7, which was the sixth-highest on Iowa's offense. Spencer Petras has had four games graded higher than that this season (72.3 at Iowa State, 75.3 vs. Kent State, 91.7 vs. Colorado State, 85.4 at Maryland). 

More:Here's what Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz had to say about Alex Padilla

Any guesses on Iowa’s top-graded player on defense Saturday?

And he was No. 2 overall (to center Tyler Linderbaum, of course) …

If you said backup defensive end Joe Evans, grab yourself a Kit Kat from the kids' Halloween candy stash.

Evans received the highest grade from PFF against the run and pass by a wide margin among Iowa’s defensive linemen. No surprise, then, that Evans was on the field for all three of Iowa’s sacks of mobile Northwestern quarterback Andrew Marty.

On Northwestern’s second drive of the game, his powerful rush off the left end helped blow up a screen play that ended up seeing Noah Shannon spin Marty down for a 12-yard sack.

Time and again, Evans seemed to torpedo Northwestern momentum. He was credited with two quarterback hurries and one sack for 8 yards, but he was robbed of another tackle-for-loss in the stats on a minus-8 yard run by receiver Raymond Niro III, who basically went to the ground as Evans had completely read the play.

Evans should’ve had another QB hurry when he sniffed out a double-reverse pass in a 17-6 game in the fourth quarter. Marty lined up on the left as a wide receiver and took a pitch in the pocket. Marty could only change direction and throw the ball away incomplete. Because Marty didn’t start the play as the quarterback, it wasn’t credited as a hurry.

Evans logged 48 snaps, second among all defensive linemen to Zach VanValkenburg (61). The 6-foot-2, 248-pound former walk-on from Ames is morphing into a dominant defensive end before our eyes.

Joe Evans (13) was once a specialist on the edge; now he's becoming an every-down defensive end.

A few other observations about the defense …

Iowa unveiled a 3-3-5 wrinkle. On at least four third-down tries for Northwestern in the first half, Iowa used three down linemen (VanValkenburg, Evans and John Waggoner) and kept third linebacker Jestin Jacobs on the field. Jacobs blitzed the first time it was used; Seth Benson and Jack Campbell blitzed the next time. It is a smart way to keep Jacobs on the field more often.

Yeah, there was bad tackling. If Campbell is part of Tuesday’s media availability, he would be the first to tell you he had a few rough moments on the Ryan Field grass. But he wasn’t alone. It was a team-wide issue. Credit Northwestern running back Evan Hull (six catches, 89 yards — including two gains of 31 on the Wildcats’ lone touchdown drive) for being a really good player, too. That was the biggest reason I saw that Northwestern averaged 2.56 yards on its first 41 plays and 7.59 on their final 34. Sometimes missed tackles indicate tired legs; and maybe if Iowa had converted more third downs on offense in the second half, the defense wouldn’t have been gassed.

Looking into Iowa’s third-down struggles

Northwestern entered the game as one of the worst third-down defenses in the Big Ten but held Iowa to 2-for-14 for the game. The first three were when Petras was at quarterback. Then Iowa converted two of its first three with Padilla, including on a sweet 19-yard throw to Tyler Goodson. 

But what happened as Iowa missed its last eight third-down tries?

Well, the last one was a kneel-down. So throw that out.

On a third-and-6 deep shot early in the third quarter, Jones was blatantly held by his cornerback but there was no call. Padilla's ball might have been on target for a touchdown if not for that full jersey tug. Bad break for Iowa there.

Mostly, there were some ultra-conservative calls, like a third-and-9 run from Northwestern's 10-yard line. Or the third-and-5 run from Northwestern's 38 in the fourth. That was more Kirk Ferentz than Brian. This was a game the head coach wanted to play it safe with an 11- or 14-point lead.

But next game, the coaches will have to put more trust in their new quarterback.

Some shout-outs …

Good recovery, guys. The jarring blocked punt on Tory Taylor’s attempt late in the first half probably should’ve been returned for a touchdown by Niro. The Northwestern receiver blocked the kick at the 32-yard line, then scooped the loose ball at Iowa’s 16. But credit great hustle by three Hawkeye walk-ons – linebackers Mike Timm and Kyler Fisher and fullback Turner Pallissard for hustling back on the play. Timm took a nice angle in anticipation of cutting Niro off around the 10, but Pallissard got him from behind. Instead of seven points, Northwestern had to settle for three off the blocked kick after having first-and-goal from the 9.

Welcome back in full, Kyler Schott. The early-August broken foot from a jump off hay bales made national headlines. Schott’s slow recovery has been less of a major story line but significant. Finally, for the first time, he played every offensive snap Saturday at left guard, and he was great. He and Linderbaum were instrumental on most of Goodson’s big runs, including the 13-yard touchdown and back-to-back totes of 15 and 22 in the fourth quarter. Schott’s full return should help an embattled offensive line as November football continues.

That stopped two-point conversion was big. Credit to Benson, Jermari Harris and Jack Koerner for tracking tight end Jackson Frericks into the end zone on a reverse pass. And credit Evans, again, for reading the play on the edge and hurrying the throw of receiver Malik Washington. The play had no chance thanks to disciplined defense. That stop with 2:15 to go ensured that Northwestern would need a touchdown to extend (or win) the game, not a field goal.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 27 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.