IOWA CITY, Ia. – Finally, the folks in Kinnick Stadium could celebrate a laugher.
And Saturday’s biggest smile belonged to Kevonte Martin-Manley.
The junior from Pontiac, Mich., set the pace for a 59-3 rout of Western Michigan by returning consecutive punts for touchdowns in the second quarter.
The Hawkeyes (3-1) went on to score their most dominant performance in nearly five years — dating to a 55-0 win over Minnesota on Nov. 22, 2008 — and should bring a little swagger to next week’s Big Ten Conference opener against the Gophers.
“It shows a lot of maturity,” Martin-Manley said. “On paper, we were probably expected to win that game.
“But coach (Kirk) Ferentz was telling us all week, ‘It doesn’t matter what paper says.’’’
B.J. Lowery earned a place in Iowa football history by becoming the first player to return two interceptions for touchdowns in the same game, but even that accomplishment couldn’t eclipse Martin-Manley’s feat.
Martin-Manley finished with four returns for 184 yards — just 17 shy of a school record established by 1939 Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick, who had 201 punt-return yards against Indiana.
Lowery, a senior cornerback from Cincinnati, is just the second Big Ten player in the BCS era (since 1998) with two pick-sixes in a single game.
“It was a special day for us,” Lowery said of sharing the spotlight with Martin-Manley. “Usually, we go head-to-head (in practice). We’re always competing against each other.
“This is just a big experience for both of us.”
Lowery also made four tackles for a defense that held Western Michigan (0-4) to nine first downs and 209 total yards.
The Hawkeye offense rushed for 258 yards and finished with a total of 446.
“You know you didn’t play very well when the opposing head coach just looks at you and goes, ‘One of those games,’’’ Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck said. “Any time you give a team two touchdowns when you’re on offense, and two touchdowns on special teams, you didn’t play well.”
Martin-Manley’s emergence as a special teams catalyst seemed unlikely.
He’s better known as Iowa’s most reliable receiver, and the Hawkeyes had a total of 34 punt-return yards in their first three games.
“We were watching film and saw we would be able to make plays on punt returns,” Martin-Manley said. “There were a lot of holes in the middle of the field … and I saw today exactly what I had seen on film.”
Martin-Manley took his first return off the bounce and ran it back 44 yards, setting up Mike Meyer’s 20-yard field goal.
“Those things are hard to catch,” Martin-Manley said of rugby-style punts. “It’s hard to judge them sometimes.”
Iowa countered by having Riley McCarron set up deep as an extra returner or blocker.
When Martin-Manley fielded his third punt, he found an opening toward the left sideline.
His 83-yard touchdown put the Hawkeyes ahead 17-0.
“The guys were blocking and I made a couple cuts off of those,” Martin-Manley said. “I shed a couple tackles.”
Western Michigan failed to pick up a first down on its next possession, and Martin-Manley took that punt down the right sideline for 63 yards.
Iowa led 24-0.
“I got in the end zone and I was like, ‘I can’t believe that really just happened,’’’ Martin-Manley said. “I was smiling from ear to ear.”
Martin-Manley became the first Big Ten player to score twice on punt returns in the same game since 1983.
Kinnick’s record was attainable with more than 10 minutes left in the first half, but Iowa coaches had other ideas.
Martin-Manley fair caught a punt in the third quarter before being replaced.
“I was kind of bitter about that. I wasn’t able to get it,” Martin-Manley said with a grin. “But to even be mentioned in that category, I was truly humbled by it.”
It took the Hawkeyes a while to break down Western Michigan’s nine-in-the-box defense. But once they did, the Broncos were buried. Perhaps the most encouraging aspect of this performance was the fact Mark Weisman was a just a bit player, with just 10 carries for 43 yards. Jacob Hillyer’s nifty 21-yard catch and run for a touchdown put Iowa up 10-0. Quarterback Jake Rudock set up another touchdown with a 31-yard scramble down the sideline.
This wasn’t a great Western Michigan offense, but Iowa did not allow a first down until 9:45 was remaining in the second quarter. By that time, the Hawkeyes owned a 24-0 lead. Special teams gets an assist, after forcing the Broncos to begin each of their first three drives inside their own 20-yard line.
For the first time this season, the Hawkeyes put away an over matched opponent – in the first half. That meant fans got a glimpse of backup quarterback C.J. Beathard in the third quarter. Playing the reserves can only help in the future.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football