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


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Iowa's 16 seniors could not have asked for a better day, especially the ones who play on special teams.

The Hawkeyes bested Illinois on Saturday by a 33-23 margin, giving the seniors a proper sendoff out of Kinnick Stadium, but three special teams seniors — kicker Caleb Shudak, wide receiver Charlie Jones and defensive back Henry Marchese — stood out. 

Special teams accounted for 19 of Iowa's 33 points on Saturday. Shudak connected on four field goals, and Charlie Jones ran a kickoff back a school-record 100 yards for a touchdown with Marchese, Jones' childhood friend and roommate, making the springing block. 

"It's pretty special," Jones said. "I just got to thank the guys out there helping me every time I'm back there. … It was nice to have this moment with my friends, guys I'm really close with. A bunch of the seniors are my best friends so it was good to come together, play well and get the win."

The senior class' impact was a central talking point from younger players to coach Ferentz postgame. This year especially, the first senior day with fans since the COVID-19 pandemic began, made Saturday's home finale special. 

The good news: Iowa improved to 9-2 overall with the win.

The bad news: Wisconsin defeated Nebraska and remain atop the Big Ten West.

The Hawkeyes will need a win and help next weekend for a division title. But for now, here's your postgame mailbag: 

What was behind the productive rush offense? 

Shield your eyes from the 3.3 yards per rush figure, but Iowa's 172 yards rushing on Saturday was its top mark this season and its second quality output in three weeks (Iowa rushed for 185 against Northwestern). 

Has the run game turning the corner? Tyler Goodson seems to think so, and a lot of that has to do with the improved play on the offensive line. 

“We’re having a lot of success in the game and those guys are doing a great job working collectively," the Hawkeye running back said after his 100-plus yard effort. "We’ve got some young guys in there, (Connor) Colby’s done a great job stepping in and making moves for us that allow us to be successful. The young guys have done a great job listening and learning from the veteran guys like (Kyler) Schott and (Tyler) Linderbaum." 

What specifically worked Saturday were inside zone runs. The interior of Iowa's line — Colby, Linderbaum and Schott dominated — and Linderbaum, the future NFL first-round draft pick, received special praise from Ferentz after the game. 

"Tyler had a critical role (Saturday)," Ferentz said. "The way they play defense, he's covered basically almost every play. Kind of said you're going to be bored this week because you're going to be blocking the same guy every play. But Tyler did a really good job. That's just who he is."

Even without starting left tackle Mason Richman, it appears that the Hawkeyes have found consistent five linemen. And it also appears that Schott is back to full health.

All good signs for Iowa's rush offense.

(And it couldn't have come at a better time as they only passed the ball for 83 yards on Saturday.)

Who's starting in the secondary next week? 

It might look very similar to the secondary that played Saturday.

Starters Matt Hankins and Jack Koerner were late scratches and didn't suit up against Illinois. Ferentz didn't specify the injury but gave an update on Hankins, Koerner as well as Terry Roberts afterward:

Hankins has "a ways to go," according to Ferentz. Koerner went through walkthroughs Friday but was still limping and was held out. Roberts is still dealing with a bone bruise but seemed "encouraged" and hopes to be back against Nebraska on Friday. 

A developing storyline of this season is the depleted secondary. But back-ups are stepping up. It's been Jermari Harris in recent weeks in place of Riley Moss. On Saturday, it was Quinn Schulte in place of Koerner. The secondary allowed some big plays, but mostly kept Illinois' pass offense under wraps.

They'll face a more dynamic challenge next week in Nebraska. And Iowa defenders will need to be in the correct places with Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez's ability as a runner.  

If neither Koerner or Roberts return, expect the same secondary lineup from Illinois: Dane Belton, Harris, Moss, Kaevon Merriweather and Schulte. If Roberts returns, I expect him and Harris to alternate opposite side Moss. 

Are Alex Padilla's stats an accurate indication of how he played? 

The first question thrown at quarterback Alex Padilla postgame was "How'd you feel about your performance overall?"

Padilla responded with "My performance doesn't matter all that much. The important thing is that we won." 

A look at the box score without watching the game would tell you Iowa won in spite of Padilla, who completed only 6-of-17 pass attempts for 83 yards and an interception. Statistically, it was rough. 

But keep in mind: It was also rough for for Iowa pass catchers, who dropped six passes in total. Several ended drives. If those passes were caught, obviously, Padilla's numbers would look better. 

But Padilla was missed opportunities, too, to help the offense. Twice it appeared that he had open completions to receivers but decided to keep the ball for a run. Most notably, he had tight end Sam LaPorta available on a play but ran the ball and failed to gain a first down.  

Stats aside, Padilla improves to 2-0 as a starter and 3-0 overall. Spencer Petras was available on Saturday but only in a backup capacity.

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Alex Padilla happy to get another win as Iowa's starting quarterback
Iowa quarterback Alex Padilla completed just 6 of 17 passes for 83 yards but was victimized by as many as six drops Saturday vs. Illinois.
Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

Where's Ferentz on a decision? The same place he's been this entire time, on a week-to-week basis. 

"We'll talk about (Sunday) and then keep pushing for it," Ferentz said. "But I feel like two weeks ago, we have two guys we can win with now we have confidence in. So we'll take a look at it and go from there." 

Any concern about a short week coming up? 

Iowa will play on a short week for the second time this year when they suit up against Nebraska on Friday. The Hawkeyes are familiar with this and unlike last time when they flew to Maryland, it's a much shorter drive. But there's a few reasons to be concerned. 

To start, Iowa's defense played an average of 77 snaps in their previous five games compared to 58.6 in the first five. The good news is the defense largely returned to form against Illinois (among the worst offenses in the Big Ten) and as a result only played 61 snaps. The Hawkeyes did what they should do. 

But the shorter week means less time to manage the several injuries, and the trainer's room is pretty packed at the moment. 

Overall, the short week won't determine winning or losing. Nebraska has the same short week ahead of it too. 

Kennington Lloyd Smith III covers Iowa Hawkeyes football and men's basketball for the Des Moines Register. You can connect with Kennington on Twitter @SkinnyKenny_ or email him at ksmith@gannett.com.