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Conquering like Caesar

BY CODY GOODWIN | NOVEMBER 06, 2014 5:00 AM

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There was no doubt in Pat Fitzgerald’s mind that, after the Hawkeyes pummeled Northwestern 48-7, at least two of Iowa’s five offensive linemen will make a living playing on Sundays.

“They have two NFL players at tackle,” the Northwestern head coach said on Nov. 1. “[Brandon] Scherff and the rest of the offensive line pretty much had their way with us all day long.”

In Iowa’s most complete team performance of the season, it was no surprise that the offensive line played a central role.

The group of Scherff, Austin Blythe, Tommy Gaul, Jordan Walsh, and Andrew Donnal paved the way for 221 rushing yards on 46 carries — a cool 4.8 yards-per-carry average — while not allowing a sack all afternoon.

Iowa’s offensive line has steadily progressed since the season-opener against Northern Iowa, and it has seen some of its better outings in the last three games. And, said head coach Kirk Ferentz — who knows a thing or two about success in the trenches — part of it has been because of the play of Gaul.

“You never know how things are going to go. I’ve said repeatedly that, for us to have a good season, we have to have some good stories. And Tommy is unfolding as one of the better stories we’ve had,” Ferentz said. “And Tommys always done a good job. He’s done it in a very almost a quiet fashion, if you will.

“He’s a quality guy. Solid in every regard. And then the big thing is when he got to the moment of truth, he got his chance against Indiana, and he did a heck of a job.”

Gaul, a senior from Des Moines, has been a staple in the offensive line since Oct. 11, when Walsh, the starting right guard, went down with an injury on the Hawkeye’s first possession against the Hoosiers. Blythe moved over to right guard, and Gaul slid in at center.

The next week, Gaul made his first career start at center against Maryland (Blythe moved over to left guard and Walsh was back at right). He started against Northwestern, too, and he’s listed to start this weekend against Minnesota.

“Going into the season, you never know what’s going to happen,” Gaul said. “Especially in football. Injuries happen, and things shuffle around. In camp, you’re trying to improve every day and find a role, and that was my role back then.

“Sometimes, things change, and you just have to be ready to go.”

Since Gaul, a product of Dowling Catholic, has been on the line, Iowa’s offense has noticeably improved. In the season’s first five games, the Hawkeyes averaged 3.6 yards per carry. With Gaul in the last three, Iowa running backs are taking the ball 4.5 yards per rush.

Even more, Iowa’s scored more points with Gaul playing. In those first five games, the Hawkeyes scored 22.6 points per game. In the last three, Iowa has averaged 41.3. The offense also scored 8 rushing touchdowns in the first five games, and it has scored 9 in the last three.

This hasn’t all been a direct result of Gaul playing, of course, but his teammates say he’s been an integral part of the offense’s success the last few weeks.

“It happened relatively smooth and quickly,” right guard Donnal said about Gaul’s insertion.

“Tommy’s been here for five years, and everybody who’s up there on the line has experience. That’s valuable when you get out onto the playing field. That’s really carried over into the games.”

The linemen aren’t resting, despite the recent success. They know that the one thing better than one great performance is to do it consistently.

“We took a step forward on Saturday,” Donnal said. “But just like any week, we have a lot of things we need to improve on, and we’re just going to take it one game at a time and do everything that we can and get ready for Minnesota.”

Follow @codygoodwin on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa football team.


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