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Matchup to Watch: Ray Lima vs. Tyler Linderbaum

Iowa’s redshirt freshman lineman has proven himself worthy through two games but the difficulty steps up against Iowa State

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NCAA Football: Texas Tech at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

It is easy to root for Ray Lima.

The junior college transfer found himself heading down the Kurt Warner path before he hit El Camino Community College in 2015. Then came a rededication to football and a position change, after which he posted 59 tackles (21.5 for loss) and seven sacks in the 2015 season. Iowa State got in on him before an injury sidelined him for 2016. He stuck with the Cyclones after other schools rolled in.

Loyal son, forever true

Since then he’s posted 63 tackles over 25 games as Iowa State has transitioned their defense to one which leverages three linemen.

In the lead up to last year’s Alamo Bowl, Coug Center provided an in-depth look at the coverages ISU will throw at opponents. But really, it starts with the Clones’ ability to lean on three linemen, with Lima as the lynchpin. In this article, Lima shows a willingness to clog gaps in shotgun running concepts before peeling off an making tackles when required.

While not Lima-centric, Frogs O’ War had some additional stats regarding Iowa State defense last year:

  • 3.3 yards per carry (first in conference)
  • 6.9 yards per pass (second)
  • 33 sacks (third) for 258 yards (first)

This defense is good. They held Iowa to 13 points in a slog last year. Phil Steele praises the 6’3”, 305 pound Lima as “arguably their best player on the roster” among 8 returning starters on that side of the ball.

They might be better.

As such, it makes it a tall task for redshirt freshman Tyler Linderbaum (6’3” 286 lbs). He’s flashed in his first two games in a position which left Hawk fans wanting last year. And what a year it’s been for the 19-year-old:

His 2018 summer started with double duty between Solon baseball and summer workouts with the Hawkeyes, where he was initially slotted along the defensive line. In bowl prep, he flipped to center and flashed. He’s had the position, which makes the call along the offensive line, on lock since most of spring practice.

Now, he’s making plays like this...

...and this...

...and countless others in his first two games as a collegiate center.

But this is a step up. For both of those plays to work, Linderbaum has to disengage with the tackle in front of him. With all due respect to Miami (OH)’s and Rutgers’s defensive lines, none of them have a Lima who will be much more rooted, both physically and mentally, as Iowa tries to navigate their offense around him.

Then there is just the administrative piece of the job: Can Linderbaum make the right calls? Can the calls get communicated in a raucous Jack Trice Stadium? Can he snap the ball?

Only at that point does it matter whether or not he can block the guy in front of him.

So it will be a trial by fire for Linderbaum. He’ll win some downs and lose some and bring others to a draw. Whether Iowa is able to move the ball is going to be highly dependent on how many times Linderbaum can come out on top.