Iowa's special teams trickeration shows degree of confidence

Fake punt moves the chains and moves the Hawkeyes

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IOWA CITY — Miguel Recinos hasn’t been asked to run the ball. Not yet anyway.

But maybe after the Hawkeyes pulled off an onside kick and a fake punt during their 45-16 victory Saturday over Illinois, his time is coming.

Recinos laughed. We should throw in here that he’s the kicker. We also should throw in that the Hawkeyes ran a successful fake field goal at Michigan State last week.

“I don’t know about that one,” the junior said.

There’s no denying Iowa’s special teams are locked into “go for it” mode.

Recinos dribbled a perfect onside kick following up Nate Stanley’s 5-yard TD pass to Nick Easley. Freshman cornerback Matt Hankins recovered, but the Hawkeyes failed to convert it to points.

That was OK. In their next at-bat, on a fourth-and-5 from Illinois’ 41 late in the third quarter, safety Amani Hooker took a direct snap out of punt formation and dashed 18 yards for a first down. Stanley hit running back Akrum Wadley for a 2-yard TD with 8 seconds left in the first half.

“There’s always that attitude,” Hooker said. “You always want to come out and change field position, whether it’s running fakes, flipping the field with the punt or attacking kickoffs inside the 20. There’s always that attitude we can make a difference on special teams.”

Recinos credited special teams coaches LeVar Woods and Seth Wallace for setting an early tone in camp. The kick and punt coverage units proved they could do those jobs. That allowed coaches to download more to special teams, like the fakes and the onsides.

“I think the coaches were like, ‘OK, these guys can do this, so let’s see what else they can do,’” said Recinos, who hit a 37-yard field goal and is now 5 of 6 this season. “We as the players really appreciate that the coaches clearly trust us. It makes us feel like an impact unit.”

You don’t call for these plays unless you feel pretty good about them. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said the plays were recommendations from staff and that’s how that works. If the assistants see something on video, they’ll make a pitch.

“It’s a little easier for me to give it the OK when you see it a couple times during the week,” Ferentz said. “That gives you confidence.”

The timing of these plays also showed a degree of confidence in Iowa’s special teams players. Iowa had just taken a 7-3 lead when the onside kick happened. If the Illini stop the fake punt, it’s first down Illinois at around midfield with about a minute to play in the first half.

“It was a good call,” Illinois head coach Lovie Smith said. “If they hadn’t made it, we had great field position going the other way. Those were critical plays at the time, but we still had opportunities.”

The fact that last week’s fake field goal at Michigan State worked but the Hawkeyes were unable to score after it hasn’t been forgotten by Ferentz. He felt the energy leave his team when MSU stubbed that out last week just as he felt his team was infused by the successes this week.

Iowa eventually rode Hooker’s fake into the end zone. It’s easy to forget in a game that turned into a blowout, but that score gave Iowa the lead for good.

“When you can convert those things and execute them and then do something with it, then that’s a really good thing, and that’s what I mean about complementary team football,” Ferentz said. “If you do something well there (with a special teams fake), the execution is good, but then what are we going to do as a result of that? I think it certainly helped us today on that fake punt.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8256; marc.morehouse@thegazette.com

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