IOWA CITY — On one hand, you can’t get enough of Keith Duncan’s story. You’re human. Duncan’s story is one of perseverance and there’s been a big payoff this season.
Yes, the kicker who waited two years for his second chance at the job he won in 2016 edged out Caleb Shudak by a coin flip in camp and, in the No. 17 Hawkeyes’ 19-10 victory over Illinois, hit four of six field goal attempts and broke the Big Ten record for field goals made during a season.
Duncan, who was named Big Ten special teams player of the week Monday, will probably lead the nation in field goals made this season. The Hawkeyes (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten) travel to Nebraska (5-6, 3-5) Friday and Duncan has 27 field goals (in 32 attempts). Two others are tied at 23, so someone is going to have to go on a run. Duncan’s 83.3 ﬁeld goal percentage is the best ever among Iowa kickers with at least 30 ﬁeld goal attempts (35 of 42 in his career).
“That to me is — the whole story is — I’m not saying he had a bad attitude, OK, but when somebody beats you out, they win the job in competition, an older guy, a lot of times you just see guys just kind of — I call it a second-team cocoon, even where it’s a pretty safe zone, because I don’t really have to play on Saturday so I can kind of like do this, do that,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I think sometimes guys don’t compete or practice, prepare the way they need to. And he went through a little bit of that, right after it was over.”
Two years is a long time. Miguel Recinos had a terrific run as Iowa’s field goal kicker, and, after two years, Duncan was still there. And, of course, he still had to win it.
“He and Caleb have just been — I swear to God, it’s a coin toss with those two guys,” Ferentz said. “It’s a real credit to both of them.”
Still, two years is a long time.
“The most important factor was me just growing up and being mature,” Duncan said. “You’re going the good way or you’re going the bad way.
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“There was one time KF came over to me after a random practice in the middle of the season. He’s never going to say anything to me, but he just came up and said, ‘We still trust you. Get your mind right and you’ll be good.’ I was kind of like, ‘OK, I’m good, I’m still good to go, I just need to stay on the right path.’”
This was Duncan’s third career Big Ten special teams honor and second this year. Duncan also won it after hitting 4 of 4 field goals in Iowa’s 18-17 win over Iowa State on Sept. 14.
Against the Illini, Duncan connected on four field goals (23, 45, 24, 29) to break the Big Ten and Iowa single-season record with 27 made field goals. The four made field goals ties a career high (Iowa State, Purdue) and his six field goal attempts were a career-best.
This season, Duncan is 27 of 32 on field goal attempts and 12 of 16 on field goals of 40 or more yards. Duncan’s 36 career made field goals are the sixth-most in program history.
You know there’s a flip side, right?
It’s been a rousing renaissance for Duncan. But that is a lot of field goals and you know the math on field goals vs. touchdowns.
Perhaps the frustration of an 8-3 season with losses to three ranked opponents can be covered in the distance between these two numbers.
Iowa has scored on 35 of 37 trips into the opponent’s red zone (94.6 percent). That’s No. 6 in the country. In red-zone TD percentage, you know it drops off. The Hawkeyes have scored TDs on just 54.1 percent of their red-zone trips in 2019. That’s No. 90 in the country (20 of 37). Last year, Iowa was 25th in the country with 38 red-zone TDs (69.1 percent). The 38 TDs were tied for No. 23 last year. This year, the 20 red-zone TDs is 90th.
This is where the Hawkeyes missed a competent running game (at 3.75 yards per carry, Iowa will be held to under 4 yards per carry for the third year in a row). Also, Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson. Iowa’s red-zone offense had a pair of NFL first-round tight ends to target last season.
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Depth charting — Wide receiver Brandon Smith started practicing last week, but wasn’t able to play against Illinois. He’s listed on the depth chart this week for the first time since suffering an ankle injury against Purdue on Oct. 19. That’s a good sign that maybe Smith plays against the Huskers.
Smith has 33 receptions for 407 yards and four TDs.
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