Iowa Football

Iowa's newest fake field goal: Move over Polecat and make room for the Herky

Iowa pulls some pretty cool special team chicanery in victory over Minnesota

Iowa Hawkeyes tight end T.J. Hockenson (38) runs into the end zone for a touchdown one a fake field goal during the first half of their Big Ten Conference college football game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes tight end T.J. Hockenson (38) runs into the end zone for a touchdown one a fake field goal during the first half of their Big Ten Conference college football game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — When Iowa pulled off the “Polecat” against Ohio State last season, it felt like a meteor. Well, it felt like a meteor for Ohio State.

One minute, Iowa is trying a field goal. The next, a rock from outer space crashed into Ohio State’s house and it was on fire.

After Iowa special teams coordinator LeVar Woods and his squad pulled something totally different but kind of similar in Saturday’s 48-31 victory at Minnesota, maybe Iowa is in the meteor business now.

Since all of these crazy, tricky special teams fakes need nicknames, meet “Herky.”

The blockers all went to the right. The field goal principles stayed. And after a 4-yard run by tight end T.J. Hockenson, the meteor had Minnesota’s house on fire.

“It’s looked good in practice,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Those are shot plays. There’s a little bit of a risk/reward.”

The risk was leaving 3 points on the table in what then was a close game. Iowa led the Gophers 14-7 with less than six minutes left before halftime. The reward was 7 points after a brilliantly executed play that started with punter/holder Colten Rastetter getting everything staged and ending with defensive tackle Sam Brincks hitting a block that allowed Hockenson to get to the pylon.

“Coach Ferentz tells us if he wants to run something,” Brincks said. “If we get the right look, it works. If we don’t, they’ve got the ball on their 4. The reward was a little greater than the risk.”

This play literally seldom got out of the locker room.

Iowa’s long snapper this year is Jackson Subbert. He’s from Williamsburg. On one hand, it’s good that you haven’t gotten to know him yet. His snaps have been fine. Now, you know him for a cool trick play.

But you saw that snap. That’s not easy. That’s a quick flip from one hash to the other. They practiced it in the locker room, because, you know, they wanted to surprised the Gophers.

“(Woods) saw me warm up in the locker room and I think I threw one over their heads,” Subbert said. “I didn’t give them the most confidence, but they called it and it worked out.”

Beyond the big shift, the play design is genius. It almost feels like Iowa is playing on teams not knowing what the alignment rules are or aren’t in field goal situations.

Hockenson lined up offset from the line. Defensive end A.J. Epenesa lined up off the line of scrimmage as sort of the running back. Hockenson took the direct snap and actually faked a reverse handoff to Epenesa.

Brincks’ reach block on the corner was enough to spring Hockenson.

“We had it up for a couple of weeks now,” Hockenson said. “They said this week is the week.”

Why “Herky”? Well, who knows except for the fact that it is the University of Iowa and Herky is the mascot.

And because coincidence can be pretty coincidental sometimes, Hockenson did run into Herky on the sidelines after he scored.

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So, Polecat or Herky? Take your pick. Iowa is in the special teams meteor business.

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

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