IOWA CITY — When Iowa faked a field-goal try on fourth down to get tight end T.J. Hockenson a 4-yard touchdown run in the second quarter at Minnesota last Saturday, the Gophers and both teams’ fans weren’t the only ones surprised.
“I didn’t know,” said starting offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs, who had just left the field after Iowa had been held to 2 yards over three plays following a first-and-goal at the Minnesota 6.
“I remember we were going to the sideline and I was kind of frustrated. I sat on the bench, turned around, saw the (swinging gate) formation, and I was like ‘Wait a minute.’ Then they ran it and scored. I had no idea they were running it.”
Iowa wide receiver Nick Easley was caught off guard, too.
“Once I saw them in that formation, I knew what was going to happen,” Easley said. “But I didn’t know we were going to call it in the game or at that time. I was kind of like a fan in that aspect.”
The play gave Iowa a 21-7 lead with 5:57 left in the first half of the Hawkeyes’ 48-31 win. “Maybe rejuvenation,” Wirfs called it.
“It wasn’t like we got stopped, we’ve got to settle for a field goal. We’ve got something in our back pocket.”
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It was fun, it was zany, it was high school-ish. And it was OK’d by a head coach who doesn’t exactly have a reputation as a wild man.
“I guess it was however many guys (on our staff) against one,” Kirk Ferentz joked and/or exaggerated in his postgame interview session Saturday, with Ferentz being the “one.”
But it isn’t a democracy. If the captain says no, the Hawkeyes kick the field goal.
“I was just trying to add to the stereotype,” Ferentz said Tuesday. “I’ve kind of been typecast I think over the last 19 years.
“I do try to listen really intently to what everybody has to say on the staff. It wasn’t just LeVar (Woods, the special teams coordinator). LeVar was responsible for putting that play in, and we’ve been working it for weeks. But the other guys have to be on board, too. I think it’s not that you’re always going to be a consensus, but I like to listen to what the coaches are saying, and we want to try to give ourselves every opportunity to win.
“Still need sound execution, and the guys did a good job with that. That’s the biggest thing.”
This program still is shedding the reputation of “Punting is Winning,” of being a lot more like Chuck Grassley than Tom Arnold.
We’ve seen that chipped away since now-offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz and Woods joined the staff and grew voices on it. Iowa has been a lot more open-minded (and smarter) about going for first downs on certain fourth-down situations.
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Last year, the Hawkeyes stupefied Ohio State when they used a play they called “Polecat.” Leading 31-17 late in the third quarter, Iowa had 4th-and-3 at the OSU 20. A field goal would have made it a three-score game. But the Hawkeyes had holder Colten Rastetter throw a pass to long snapper Tyler Kluver.
It netted 18 yards, and the Hawkeyes scored on the next play. “Polecat” was the punch that sealed the TKO.
Last Saturday saw the play the Hawkeyes called “Herky.” After he squeezed into the end zone, Hockenson’s momentum took him into team mascot Herky the Hawk himself on the sideline. The bird was staggered, but didn’t fall.
“I didn’t know who it was at first,” Hockenson said. “I thought it was a cheerleader. Then I saw the play and it was Herky. Yeah, that fits.”
Two Iowa defenders — Sam Brincks and A.J. Epenesa — were part of the formation. At least one other Hawkeye defensive player was skeptical.
“Throughout practice last week,” safety Amani Hooker said, “as a defense we were like ‘Aw, that’s not going to work. We’d be all over that.’
“But when we saw that in the game last Saturday, it was like ‘That was wide open.’ It was fun to see.”
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