Leistikow's DVR Monday: If this was Tyler Linderbaum's last home game, it was a gem

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Iowa has been outgained by its opponent in its last five football games.

Yet the 9-2 Hawkeyes are on a three-game winning streak and ranked 12th in the latest coaches' poll after Saturday's 33-23 win against Illinois

Much of the postgame credit went to Iowa's special teams and defense. On this week's DVR Monday film review. we shine the spotlight on Brian Ferentz's offense. What went well? What didn't? What can be built upon heading into Friday's 12:30 p.m. game at Nebraska?

Let's start in the middle of the action.

In probably his last time playing at Kinnick Stadium, this was the Tyler Linderbaum game.

I asked Kirk Ferentz after the game where this Hawkeye team would be without its all-American center.

“It would be really interesting. Yeah, really interesting,” the head coach said, the wheels in his head probably going to some dark scenarios. “Not only is he playing well, but he's also setting the bar for everybody else in the room.”

Ferentz has highlighted the preseason injuries to expected starting guards Kyler Schott and Cody Ince and the extreme inexperience at tackle as the main issue holding back this Iowa team. But Linderbaum, the Outland Trophy semifinalist, has been the one constant. And he had another vintage performance Saturday, with the Hawkeyes’ offense moving right behind No. 65.

With Iowa backed up to its own 7-yard line in the second quarter, the Hawkeyes ran Tyler Goodson up the middle for a quick and necessary 23 yards. Linderbaum manned up Illinois 335-pound defensive tackle Calvin Avery and shoved him out of the play like he weighed 135 pounds.

Linderbaum continually frustrated the Illini in the run game. He bulldozed such a clean path on Gavin Williams’ 7-yard run in the third quarter that he was actually the furthest Hawkeye downfield by the time the whistle blew to break up his blocks.

More:Iowa football postgame mailbag: What sparked running game's turnaround?

No surprise, Linderbaum was Iowa’s highest-graded player by Pro Football Focus against Illinois, with a rating of 86.2. No other offensive lineman was above 70. Freshman wide receiver Arland Bruce IV was next, at 83.3. 

Linderbaum won't publicly address his NFL future until after the season, but if this was it for him at Kinnick, he went out on a high note.

Tired of seeing Iowa’s outside zone? Apparently Brian Ferentz was, too.

The Hawkeyes came out of the halftime locker room by running three straight inside-zone running plays to Goodson for gains of 6, 6 and 13, and that was a common play call from Iowa’s offensive coordinator throughout the second half.

That repeated success in the run game should have set up Iowa for a big offensive day, but critical drops and misplays on third down (more on that soon) held the Hawkeyes back.

Nonetheless, they enjoyed a lot of success with variations of up-the-middle runs behind Linderbaum, Schott and Connor Colby. With Iowa needing to salt away a 23-16 game with under five minutes to go, Brian Ferentz went back to the well again, and his blockers delivered. In a one-back set, Iowa’s offensive line flowed its zone blocking to the right as offset tight end Sam LaPorta cut behind that wall of linemen as a lead blocker for Goodson, who cut back and raced through the hole for 21 big yards and put the Hawkeyes in field-goal-clinching range.

Freshman Gavin Williams' use on Iowa's inside-zone play was extremely effective. He carried 10 times for 56 yards against the Illini.

On the very next play, Williams got the call on a straight-ahead inside zone for 16 more yards to help chew clock and eventually allow Caleb Shudak to punch through his fourth field goal.

More:Leistikow: Hawkeyes don't look like a 9-2 team, but they are one. That's worth appreciating

Not counting jet sweeps or tosses, Iowa tried six outside runs on handoffs that netted exactly zero yards.

But when on the bread-and-butter calls up the middle? I counted 29 attempts for 180 yards, a terrific 6.2 yards-per-carry average. No wonder Kirk Ferentz continues to be optimistic about what he’s seeing in practice with Iowa’s running game.

How costly were the dropped passes?

The six pass completions (on 18 attempts) were the fewest for Iowa since a 34-27 win against Michigan State in 2007. Receiver drops were the biggest reason for that hard-to-believe stat Saturday. A “drop” is certainly subjective, but let’s just say there were seven balls thrown by Alex Padilla that were on target and not caught.

A breakdown:

Second-and-4 from Illinois’ 44, first quarter. A strike to LaPorta went off the tight end’s hands at the first-down line to gain. He was double teamed, but could’ve made the catch. Calling it a drop.

Third-and-2 from Iowa’s 33, second quarter. A two-minute drill was stopped when Nico Ragaini had a quick slant bounce off his hands. He had two defenders closing, but the ball was shoulder high and catchable. Drop.

Third-and-8 from Illinois’ 39, second quarter. A good call which has worked well this season had Goodson run a quick route over the middle with a catch-and-run opportunity. Padilla’s pass went off Goodson’s left hand and Iowa settled for a (failed) 57-yard field goal try. That one’s probably on the QB for having too much zip on a short throw.

Third-and-3 from Illinois’ 30, third quarter. The most glaring drop of the day cost Iowa 10 yards and a red-zone opportunity. Padilla’s quick slant to Ragaini was on target, but the fourth-year wideout had the ball carom off his hands. Shudak did convert the subsequent 48-yard field goal.

Third-and-9 from Iowa’s 37, third quarter. Padilla did a nice job buying time in the pocket and staying patient. His pass over the middle to tight end Luke Lachey was on target for a potential 13-yard gain. But as the ball appeared to arrive between the 8 and 5 on his jersey, Illinois’ Kendall Smith chopped at Lachey and swatted the ball to the ground. Let’s call that a good defensive play, but it was also a catchable pass. (All that said, a holding call on Iowa would've waved it off, so it wasn't costly.)

First-and-10 from Iowa’s 37, fourth quarter. Another fastball from Padilla went off Keagan Johnson’s hands for what probably would’ve been a 2- or 3-yard gain on a shallow cross, but who knows? We’ve seen Johnson break big plays out of nothing. It should’ve been caught, and it was almost intercepted on the deflection. Iowa would go three-and-out.

Third-and-goal from Illinois’ 10, fourth quarter. Another tough play in traffic, but one Johnson could’ve made as he posted up at the goal line after Padilla scrambled right. Padilla's pass arrived on target. Illinois linebacker Isaiah Gay might’ve slightly tipped the pass. Let’s call this another good defensive play.

Padilla finished the day 6-for-17 for 83 yards, and Johnson was held on the deep-shot interception in the fourth quarter. I think it’s reasonable to say that three or four of the above seven passes would have been caught in most circumstances. By my math, that would’ve changed Padilla’s day to 10-for-17 for 105 yards and extended at least three Iowa drives.

All in all, Padilla ran the offense well and actually had a higher PFF grade than he did last week vs. Minnesota. Padilla can learn from his mistakes, like sliding too soon on a potential first-down scramble. He can also take some heat off his short throws. But the sophomore definitely deserves another start Friday against Nebraska.

Excellent third-down play gives the defense some rest.

Illinois gained 80 yards on its first touchdown drive that smacked Iowa in the mouth. It gained 85 more yards on its quick-strike final drive against Iowa’s backup defense.

On the 13 possessions in between? Just 147 yards, five first downs and six points on 44 plays.

Afterward, players said adjustments were minimal.

On tape, the credit starts with Noah Shannon. We don’t talk about Iowa’s undersized defensive tackle much, and he only had two assisted tackles. But he was a consistently disruptive force against Illinois’ vaunted run game, which gained just 64 yards for the day.

That type of gritty play allowed Iowa’s back seven to shine and get third-down stops. After its first drive, Illinois was 2-for-13 on third down.

More:Iowa jumps two spots to No. 12 in latest USA TODAY Coaches Poll

Iowa's third-down heroes on defense were plentiful. Linebacker Seth Benson, cash corner/safety Dane Belton, cornerback Riley Moss and defensive lineman Zach VanValkenburg were among those that made critical one-on-one plays to force kicks. And credit Quinn Schulte for a fantastic effort on Illinois’ fourth-and-3 try in a 23-16 game with 5:41 to go. Schulte knocked the ball out of tight end Luke Ford’s hands as he fell to the ground with an apparent first-down catch.

The body of defensive work was quite the contrast to last week’s game against Minnesota, in which the defense couldn’t get off the field and played 80-plus snaps.

On Saturday? After VanValkenburg’s 53 snaps, no defensive lineman played more than Lukas Van Ness’ 33. Linebacker Jack Campbell, who averaged 79.4 snaps in Iowa’s previous five games, logged “only” 58 and Benson had 55. That’s an improvement in workload, and it can be credited to strong third-down defense.

A few final observations

Upon further review, punter Tory Taylor should’ve come up with the low first-quarter snap by Luke Elkin. It was a poor snap, sure, but the ball was at ankle level and went through Taylor’s legs for a 29-yard loss. Still, credit to Taylor for hustling back to fall on the football. There were three hard-charging Illinois punt-rushers on his heels, and Taylor did a nice job pulling the ball in with his right arm. Had it squirted away, Illinois probably is up 14-0 instead of 10-0 (after the defense held) in the early going. … Iowa will have a difficult decision to make about Cooper DeJean. The true freshman has played in four games, meaning if he doesn't play again this season he could take a redshirt. DeJean's terrific special-teams tackle on the next-to-last play of the third quarter helped flip field position in a 20-16 game. … Wide receiver Tyrone Tracy Jr. logged a season-low six snaps on a week that began with him using social media to express a desire for more playing time. Johnson played 62 and Bruce 30.

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.