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IOWA CITY — When you call a fake field goal, you can’t sneak out there and you really can’t break character. That’s the whole point of the “fake” part.
As it turns out, that wasn’t a problem for the Hawkeyes’ “polecat” production in last weekend’s 55-24 victory over No. 11 Ohio State.
“Honestly, it happens so quick, you can’t even react,” holder/passer/punter Colten Rastetter said.
Iowa special teams coordinator and tight ends coach LeVar Woods installed the “polecat” three weeks ago and made the call against Ohio State. The “polecat” is basically a center eligible. Senior long snapper Tyler Kluver, who is on scholarship, had his number called.
It was fourth-and-3 from Ohio State’s 20. Kicker Miguel Recinos lined up for a 38-yard field goal. Suddenly, Iowa’s line of scrimmage shifted. The “polecat” was in launch mode.
“This goes without saying, if it’s an original thought play, then it didn’t come out of my brain, that’s for sure,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “LeVar has done a great job with special teams. (Special teams quality control assistant) Kevin Spencer has been a great, I think, addition, but LeVar has really embraced it.
“We copied it from somebody. I’m not sure who, but we copied it and thought it might have a chance to go. Figured that was a pretty good situation for it.”
In hind sight, it’s pretty easy to say Ohio State should’ve called a timeout, especially with all of that pre-snap motion. The Buckeyes played on, but they had no idea what they were seeing.
Six players went to the left sideline and five players, including Kluver, lined up on the right hash. Kluver was uncovered on his right, making him an eligible receiver. The Buckeyes had a nose guard over Kluver. Defensive end A.J. Epenesa, who caught a fake field goal pass at Michigan State earlier this year, motioned from the left to the right, pulling three Ohio State defenders out of the middle of the field.
Kluver popped his head up one more time before snapping the ball, which was more of a shotgun snap, a new deal for him.
“(Ohio State) lined up better than what we thought,” said Kluver, who’s listed at 6-0, 220 in the media guide, but really is more like 5-10, 215. “I had to shotgun that snap, which isn’t exactly easy one-handed. When I popped my head up and saw no one there, I got really excited. I can’t remember the last time I was that excited in my life.
“Really quickly through my mind flashed, ‘Wowwww’ and probably some expletives. This is going to work. I’m going to score a touchdown.”
Rastetter took a couple steps to his right and then just lofted the ball. He showed some anticipation. Kluver was barely two steps into his route before Rastetter, who also completed that fake field goal pass at Michigan State, put the ball in the air.
“When coach Woods called it he was laid back and confident in us,” Rastetter said. “So, we go out there and ‘Hey, we’re running it.’ We ran it and it didn’t matter who we were running it against, we just had to convert it no matter what. Coach was confident in us to make a play like that. We had to do it.”
As Kluver sprinted into the open green, one Ohio State defender had an “oh no” moment and started trailing Kluver.
The ball hung up a little, Kluver just wanted to catch it. And ... then ... his feet ... he ... lost his balance.
Kluver stumbled and fell at the 2. But hey, 18-yard gain on fourth-and-3.
“To be honest, I was just thinking catch the ball,” Kluver said of his first career reception. “I had to stop and reach back for it. I got a little excited and couldn’t make it into the end zone.
“I’m just glad we scored on the end of that.”
Yeah, the next play, it was a pretty nice play.
On first-and-goal from the 2, Ohio State defensive end Sam Hubbard correctly read play-action rollout and fired straight up field. Left guard Ross Reynolds pulled to the right and maybe got a hand on Hubbard. Or Hubbard saw quarterback Nathan Stanley as an easy sack and his legs went “Kluver,” just suddenly turning to Jello in the big moment.
Either way, from his belly, Hubbard had Stanley’s left ankle and couldn’t do anything with it. Like a dog not being able to open a steak wrapped in plastic. By the way, Stanley is 6-5, 235 pounds and that certainly came in handy as he was hopping on his right foot and waiting for tight end T.J. Hockenson to clear coverage. Also, defensive end Jalyn Holmes broke free and had a free run with at a QB already half sacked.
Hockenson got inside position on defensive end Jonathan Cooper — the Buckeyes were in goal line and expecting run — and made a leaping catch to make it 38-17 with 2:30 left in the third quarter.
That play ...
“The way he just keeps coming back, and he did a lot of really good things today against really good competition, so that was impressive,” Ferentz said. “I think probably my favorite play is the one where he’s got the guy bringing him down and he finds a way to get the ball in the end zone there for a touchdown. A lot of big throws by him.”
The Polecat set that up. Or the center eligible. Whatever works.
“In a situation like this, you don’t think about it in your head at the time,” Kluver said. “It’s No. 6 Ohio State. Big-time situation. The sun had gone down, so it was a night game at Kinnick. It doesn’t get any bigger than that.
“You get a call and you just run it. Luckily, not luckily, to everyone’s credit on the team, we’re ready to do what coach asks whenever he asks. We were fortunate to get a chance to run it and it was super fun.”
Iowa actually had one other fake against the Buckeyes. Rastetter decided to eject from a called punt and run the ball. He was short of the first down. It was deep in Iowa territory and the Buckeyes scored on the next play to make it 48-24 with four minutes left.
Rastetter talked in the postgame, so he survived.
“I’ll just say two things,” Ferentz said lightheartedly in his postgame. “It ain’t in our playbook, OK? If the play is not in our playbook and I didn’t call it, so I’ll let you connect the dots. I normally don’t throw players under the bus, right?
“... If I call it, it’s OK. If somebody else calls it, not so good.”
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