IOWA CITY — Of course, Jaleel Johnson knows who Keith Duncan is. Of course, the star defensive tackle who scored the safety that launched Iowa’s biggest victory of the season knows the kicker who sealed Iowa’s biggest victory of the season.
“Every now and then I’ll see him in the locker room and I’ll say, ‘Hey, what’s up, Keith? How are you doing?’” Johnson said. “Other than that, it’s never a full-on conversation.
“But now, I’ll probably buy him a burger or something.”
Duncan has at least earned a burger. If he plays his cards correctly, he’ll never again pay for a burger in Iowa City.
Duncan’s 33-yard field goal as time expired lifted the Hawkeyes (6-4, 5-4 Big Ten) over No. 3 Michigan (9-1, 6-1), 14-13, and unleashed a massive Hawkeye dogpile where kickers and punters feared for their well-being.
Punter Ron Coluzzi, the holder for the field goal, ended up on the bottom right next to Duncan.
“I thought I was going to break my leg, because it was in a weird position,” said Coluzzi, who averaged 47.0 yards on six punts and downed one at UM’s 2 that ended up as Johnson’s safety. “There were a lot of people on top. It was kind of scary. Keith was screaming, ‘Get off me! Get off me!’ It was intense and it was a lot of fun, but it was scary. Some crazy things happen at the bottom of those piles.”
Duncan finished the night on his teammates’ shoulders in the locker room. Linebacker Bo Bower and wide receiver Riley McCarron did the heavy lifting. Well, Duncan is officially listed at 165 pounds, which probably really means 155, so the “heavy” was relative.
“It was an incredible feeling kicking that in front of 70,000 fans,” Duncan said. “I can’t even speak right now. Kinnick has the best fans in the world. We’ve got the best coaches and I have the best teammates. It’s an incredible feeling.”
Yes, the unspoken rule of not talking to the kicker before a giant kick is a real thing. Coluzzi did everything he could to keep Duncan’s mind uncluttered.
“A lot of people think before a game-winning field goal you’ve got to go up to the kicker and say this or say that,” Coluzzi said. “You’ve got to leave him alone. We’re in no man’s land to begin with. I did my best to get everybody to get everyone away from him. He was really mature. He carried himself well. We did the same thing we’ve been doing since we first got here in June, and that’s having fun.”
A low, low, low key MVP for this game? Former Hawkeyes and NFL punter Jason Baker was in Iowa City this week and on the sideline Saturday night. He counseled Coluzzi out of some recent struggles and kept him centered after Coluzzi took a shot to the head on a botched and impromptu fake and back-to-back “running into the kicker” penalties.
“He did a great job helping me with my mechanics, making sure I was calm,” Coluzzi said. “After I got hit on that first one — I’ve had two concussions playing football where I literally blacked out — so, I knew I was a little fuzzy. He was like, ‘How’s your heart rate? What do you need to do to stay calm? He was great keeping me levelheaded.”
That’s not where Baker’s involvement ends. When Iowa coaches talked Duncan, a Texas transplant to Weddington, N.C., out of the scholarship he accepted at Furman, the Duncans later learned that Baker, who lives in Charlotte after spending the last seven years of his NFL career with the Panthers, suggested the staff give Duncan a look. By the way, Baker was an all-Big Ten punter for the Hawkeyes in 1999-2000.
Baker noticed Duncan’s career in local media coverage and made the call to the Hawkeyes staff. Without Baker’s recommendation, it probably wasn’t Duncan sifting through a pair of freeze timeouts called by Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh. Kickers seem to thrive on the freeze timeouts, by the way.
“I had a feeling they would do it (call timeouts), but I wasn’t thinking about it,” said Duncan, who handles Iowa’s field goals from 40 yards and in. “If we got the first one off, I was going to kick it. If we got the second one off, I was going to kick that, too.”
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Something like this shreds perspective. Keith Duncan now walks with Rob Houghtlin, who kicked the game-winner over Michigan in the legendary 1985 No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup at Kinnick Stadium. If they haven’t already, Duncan one day will shake hands with Daniel Murray, who kicked the game-winner in 2008 to topple No. 3 Penn State.
Yes, Duncan, Houghtlin and Murray are Iowa field goal Mount Rushmore with Nate Kaeding — who, by the way, called Iowa’s victory on Twitter — filling the last spot. OK, this is subject to change and certainly subject to debate, with Tom Nichol and Mike Meyer deserving consideration. That was, after all, Duncan’s eighth career field goal (his second longest).
“Tyler Kluver (long snapper), Ron Coluzzi, and the line do an amazing job,” Duncan said. “It was a perfect hold. When I felt it off my foot, I knew it was in. You really know right away off your foot. It’s just the sound of the ball and how heavy it hits off your foot.”
It’s all in the foot.