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Matchup to Watch: George Karlaftis vs. Iowa’s tackles

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The Iowa Hawkeyes look to move to 7-0 and keeping Spencer Petras clean will go a long way

NCAA Football: Iowa at Purdue Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Week 1: Ty Fryfogle vs. Iowa’s corners
Week 2: Charlie Kolar/Chase Allen vs. Iowa’s linebackers
Week 3: Kent State’s corners vs. Iowa’s wide receivers
Week 4: Thomas Pannunzio vs. Tory Taylor
Week 5: Maryland’s offensive line vs. Iowa’s defensive line
Week 6: Jahan Dotson vs. Iowa’s secondary

The Hawkeyes were put through the wringer in defending Dotson. By “put through the wringer” I mean they were the wringer. Dotson finished with just 8 receptions for 48 yards! Much of his damage, if that’s what you call it, was done in the screen game where he ran the ball right behind two blockers. Iowa came out on top with four interceptions (the secondary technically had three).

All of them were on passes thrown to Dotson, including two down the field. At one point, Joel Klatt remarked as to how well Iowa mirrored routes, as if they knew exactly where he was going.

Doughboys, baby!


Through six weeks, the #2 Iowa Hawkeyes (6-0, 3-0) have shown mettle by dispatching previously-well-regarded opponents with relative ease. Last week against Penn State was the biggest test to date and the Hawks once again came out on top. The rest of the schedule is rife with landmines, the first of which is a team Phil Parker has had particular difficulty cracking the code on over the last four years. The Purdue Boilermakers (3-2, 1-1) are currently second in the Big Ten West and bring with them a salty defense.

The tip of that spear is George Karlaftis.

The junior had a breakout freshman campaign where he was constantly in opposing backfields and finished with 7.5 sacks and a truly astounding 17 tackles for loss. Pro Football Focus tallied 55 QB pressures, good for a 13.5% pressure rate. He did this in a variety of ways, as his highlight package shows:

Purdue lines him up all across the formation. He can beat the man in front of him with power or speed. Perhaps most impressive is play recognition he displays in the run game. While Iowa does not run many called QB runs which are not sneaks, the Wildcat formation is likely dead on arrival with his ability to diagnose and finish plays involving a QB read.

He dealt with injuries throughout 2020 and was only to play in 3 games and was unable to leave the same mark as he did during his true freshman season. He finished with just 4 tackles, but made them count with 2 TFL & 2 sacks. Through 5 games this season, he’s yet to recreate his astounding numbers with just 3 TFL & 1.5 sacks, but has returned as a sure tackler with 20. He has also added something to his game by way of active hands.

In the highlight clip above, he poked the ball free from Jonathan Taylor’s hands in 2019. He has forced two fumbles so far this season. He’s also added four passes defended to counteract opponent gameplans against him, whether it be “incessant double teams” or quick passes to get ahead of his rush.

From the Hawkeye perspective, offensive line play has been fine. With perhaps the top lineman in the country in Tyler Linderbaum, the narrative and weekly highlights he posts papers over the inconsistency elsewhere. With Kyler Schott back and stabilizing the interior, the questions turn to the bookends, freshman Mason Richman and sophomore Nick DeJong.

The Hawks have allowed 14 sacks so far this season, or 2.33/game. It ranks 78th in the country. It’s exacerbated a smidge when accounting for QB dropbacks - a sack percentage of 7.29% for 81st in the country.

There were plenty of times where Penn State caused pressure and they did it in a little bit different way than Purdue is likely to throw at Iowa. Often times, PSU threw blitzes from a number of different angles to speed Spencer Petras up. One time sticks out as they focused on coverage to do the exact same thing:

PSU dropped their defensive tackles into coverage and let their ends win one-on-one battles against Iowa’s tackles. While neither get home to Petras, the added bodies in coverage close off outlets and speed up his clock, forcing the throwaway.

Purdue has transitioned more to a bend-don’t-break system which offers more guys in coverage but has resulted in less turnovers & aggression than they were led to believe would happen in the offseason. By throwing more guys in coverage, though, it will offer Karlaftis more time to beat his man and get to Petras. But, it’s led to the Big Ten’s #3 scoring defense as that side of the ball has done enough to win games so far this season.


While Karlaftis hasn’t matched his freshman season numbers, he has faced far more double-teams than prior seasons as the guy to stop on Purdue’s defense. Iowa’s offense has struggled protecting Spencer Petras. We just learned how important protecting the QB can be with Sean Clifford going down against Iowa invoking memories of Iowa/Northwestern circa 2009.

Keep Petras upright and he’s shown to be a pretty capable QB for much of this season. Limiting Karlaftis will go a long way towards a successful day at the office for the offense.