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Home / Enter ‘The Technician:’ Tommy Gaul steps in
IOWA CITY - If you had Tommy Gaul as Iowa's sixth-best O-lineman, you might be his dad. From the way it sounded, no one saw this coming.
Junior center Austin Blythe didn't see it coming.
'I don't know if that was necessarily the plan or if that was a game-time decision or what not,” Blythe said. 'I'm fine with it. Next man in. Tommy did a great job.”
'We did practice that scenario a couple of times,” offensive tackle Brandon Scherff said. 'We want to make sure everyone knows who the next man in is. He jumped in and did a heckuva job.”
No one told the 'next man in” that he was the 'next man in” until seconds after junior guard Jordan Walsh went down with a right ankle injury on the second play of Iowa's 45-29 victory over Indiana on Saturday.
'No, I didn't,” said Gaul, a 6-3, 280-pounder from Des Moines. 'When Walsh went down, I thought I had a chance to go in. [O-line coach Brian Ferentz] Coach called my name, next man in. I tried to do my best.”
Gaul went the rest of the way, seeing his first significant playing time as a fifth-year senior walk-on. For a player who doesn't get paid, it was quite the payoff.
'I'm a fifth-year senior,” he said. 'I was able to help out with some of the IDs [identifying linebackers on presnap], that was really a new thing to me. Being out there was kind of new, being in a competitive environment. It definitely helped [being in the program].”
Iowa radio sideline reporter Rob Brooks said during the broadcast that Walsh had his ankle retaped, limped on the sideline, but could've gone back into the game.
Iowa stood pat with Gaul switching in at center and Blythe move over to guard. That was kind of new. Blythe played center all of 2013 after breaking in as a guard during his redshirt freshman year in 2012.
Against the Big Ten's No. 10 rush defense, Iowa churned out 207 yards on 44 carries. It was the first time in nine games the Hawkeyes passed the 200-yard mark. The 4.70 yards per carry also was Iowa's best this season and best in nine games.
After Indiana scored to pull within 45-29, Iowa punched in with a four-minute drill that all offenses love and, certainly, will likely have a say in who claims the Big Ten West Division title. A four-minute drill is basically the offense running the ball and trying to take four minutes off the clock.
Iowa took the ball with 7:23 left in the game and drove 34 yards in 4:09. Running back Mark Weisman started the drive with runs of 8, 4, 7 and 6 yards. Mission accomplished. Iowa punted the ball back with 3:14 left and a 16-point lead.
'When we get a lead, we say we want to end the game on our terms with the ball,” Gaul said. 'We did an OK job of that.”
Indiana moved to Iowa's 11, but free safety Jordan Lomax came up with his first career interception in the end zone. IU had a timeout, and Iowa had the ball at its 20 with 1:16 left. Weisman gained another 13 yards on three carries and that was that.
'That's something we love to do as a team and an offensive line,” Blythe said. 'We want to finish a game the way we want to and have it in our hands. We want to dictate how it finishes.”
Gaul jumped in nicely, but who made this work was Blythe. He did actually take two snaps at guard in Thursday's practice, but that was it. He said it's his job as the center to know what the three interior positions are doing on every play. He shrugged it off as an easy transition. In fact, he said if he had a question, he asked Gaul.
'It was an adjustment, but it was a fairly smooth transition,” Blythe said. 'He's always ready to go. He knows what he's doing. It was smooth sailing for him.”
Blythe did have to let go of some old habits.
'I would always look at the ball and try to set the huddle, because that's what a center does,” Blythe said. 'It was a little bit of a habit change.”
Gaul has been at Iowa and plugged in and fully invested for five years. And he's not on scholarship. He's doing this for free and he's apparently been doing it well behind the scenes on the fringes of the depth chart. The distance between fifth-year walk-on and potential top-10 NFL draft pick isn't that far when you share a locker room.
Scherff has a nickname for Gaul.
'We call him ‘The Technician,' because he always does everything right,” Scherff said. 'He's works his butt off. I'm happy for him.”
Gaul graduated from West Des Moines Dowling, which is where head coach Kirk Ferentz found himself recruiting on Friday night of Iowa's bye week Oct. 3.
'When I was with him at that high school game a week ago, it was just me and him standing there,” Ferentz said. 'I realized he's a big guy. No shrimp by any stretch.
'But importantly he prepares every day, has a great attitude. Teammates love the guy. They singled him here out after the postgame. It's fun when you see things like that and you can feel really good about what he did to help us win today.”
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