Iowa Football

Something special: Iowa special teams have handy hands, faithful feet against Purdue

Iowa gets a lot of good from those units in win over Purdue

IOWA CITY — Kirk Ferentz is from a certain generation.

The Iowa football coach frequently references past Hawkeyes games and players that younger Iowa fans have only heard about. In his postgame press conference here Saturday, he used the phrase “Kodak moment” for the umpteenth time since he’s been Iowa’s head football coach. He even still read newspapers.

Which makes him more honest than the many coaches who claim they never look at them or their online versions.

“I glanced at a headline,” Ferentz said last Tuesday in the aftermath of his team’s 17-12 home loss to Penn State three days before. “Two things in the last five days in the papers that were interesting. Won’t go into the one. Nothing special, whatever.”

Let’s assume he was referring to “NOTHING SPECIAL,” the primary headline of last Sunday’s Gazette sports section. In full defense of the headline writer, the game was nothing special from a Hawkeyes standpoint other than Brandon Smith’s otherworldly touchdown catch late in the game.

But an appropriate headline for Iowa’s 26-20 Kinnick Stadium win over Purdue Saturday would be “SOMETHING SPECIAL.” Not as a two-word diagnosis of the victory, which won’t be defined by historians as special. But the Hawkeyes’ special teams were.

The special teams units weren’t perfect. Ferentz noted that in ruing a returnable kickoff Ihmir Smith-Marsette fair caught late in the first half, and an Iowa personal foul penalty on a Purdue kickoff-return that let the Boilermakers start an early fourth-quarter drive at their 41.

The rest, though, was winning stuff. When Iowa was stopped on downs at its 16 with a 19-10 fourth-quarter lead, Michael Sleep-Dalton punted the ball away from Purdue’s return man and hit a 63-yard field flipper. The Hawkeyes’ new punt-return guys, Max Cooper and Geno Stone, didn’t let any kicks get away from them. That sore spot was healed for a week.

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Also vital, Nico Ragaini and Nate Wieting both fielded and protected an onside kick in the last three minutes. “They looked prepared,” Ferentz said.

Then there was Keith Duncan, who made all four of his field goal tries, ranging between 30 and 44 yards. So, it was Hands Team 2-for-2 and Feet Guy 4-for-4, which added up to a huge part of the math in the 6-point win.

We’ve lauded Duncan here before this season, with reason. He went 4-for-4 in field goals in Iowa’s 18-17 win at Iowa State. His final kick were the game’s final points. He’s 17 of 19 overall, and owned the nation’s lead in made field goals when the game ended.

“I honestly didn’t know that,” Duncan said. “I just kind of take what’s given to me.

“My job isn’t to keep stats or anything like that. I just focus on making a kick and have a one-rep mindset.”

“I thought he was really wired in,” Ferentz said.

Duncan’s field goal volume is good news, but not great news. That Iowa has 18 touchdowns and 17 field goals through seven games (three TDs to seven field goals over the last three games) isn’t what a coach desires when he says he wants a balanced offense. The Hawkeyes got enough done offensively to get a first win in three games against Jeff Brohm’s first three Purdue teams, but not much more.

A brighter stat is that Iowa got points in each of its four trips to the red zone Saturday and is 2 of 24 in that department this season. Entering Saturday, LSU and Notre Dame were the only other two teams in the country perfect in red-zone efficiency.

“It’s always frustrating,” Hawkeye wide receiver Tyrone Tracy said when asked about settling for so many field goals. “When we get down there we’re always looking for six points. That’s the goal when we get in the red zone.

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“I am satisfied we’re scoring. The last couple weeks we couldn’t even get down there. We’re working our way up the ladder right now.”

Those rungs would feel greased if not for dependable Duncan. Who remains a walk-on, by the way. Here’s a headline we should be writing sometime in the not-so-distant future:

DUNCAN GETS SCHOLARSHIP

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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