“Fake” and “punt” probably are the two words Iowa football fans despise more than any right now.
Maybe fans fear the words fake punt because Saturday’s 26-14 loss to Michigan State marked the sixth time since the 2010 season that Iowa has been burned by one.
It wasn’t the make-or-break play of the game, but it was the continuation of a disturbing trend.
It happened on the first play of the fourth quarter while both teams were still trying to seize the momentum, and it led to three points on a field goal, which against Michigan State’s vaunted defense felt more like 30 points.
The same Iowa program that used to make other teams look foolish and unprepared on special teams is now having the same thing done to it. Being fooled six times in a row in three-and-a-half seasons demands an explanation.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz gave his explanation after Saturday’s loss, which lowered Iowa’s record to 4-2 overall and 1-1 in the Big Ten heading into a bye week: His team was trying to execute a punt return and basically got toasted.
“In theory, you have it defended,” Ferentz said. “But if you have guys turning and blocking and setting up a return, you’re vulnerable.
“So maybe that’s the moral of the story, maybe we can’t (return punts). It worked pretty good two weeks ago, and then we paid for it today.”
Ferentz was referring to junior receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley returning two punts for touchdowns during Iowa’s 59-3 beat-down against Western Michigan on Sept. 21 at Kinnick Stadium.
Martin-Manley wasn’t available to return punts Saturday because of a leg injury that had him limping noticeably.
His injury was one of several that hindered Iowa’s performance against the Spartans. Star running back Mark Weisman played sparingly because of an ankle injury.
Injuries were not the reason Iowa lost to a Big Ten opponent for the seventh time in the last eight games dating back to last season. Injuries certainly didn’t help Iowa’s cause, but the final score was decided more by execution, or in Iowa’s case, the lack of it.
Getting fried on a fake punt is simply not executing.
“It’s all about timing and execution, and I felt like if we executed — I just felt like if the moment was right, we’d do it,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “And I just wanted to let our players know, they’re going to be at risk on the football field. Sometimes, the coach has to take a risk, too. So I wanted to step out there and do that.”
Ironically, Michigan State punter Mike Sadler actually grew up as an Iowa fan and didn’t switch allegiances until he became a Spartan. He now has a fake punt named after him.
“Hey, Diddle Diddle, send Sadler up the middle,” Dantonio said of the play that was used to burn the Hawkeyes.
What’s more maddening about Saturday’s fake punt is that Michigan State has a reputation under Dantonio for taking chances on special teams, and yet the Hawkeyes still proved vulnerable.
“That’s very frustrating,” said Iowa junior defensive tackle Cark Davis, who is from Michigan. “It hurts. But credit to them. They made a good play.
“All week we actually talked about it. We knew they were going to run some type of fake. We didn’t know if it would be a fake punt or field goal. But they got one off today. So hats off to them.”
This current rash of fake punt breakdowns started during a 31-30 loss to Wisconsin in 2010 at Kinnick Stadium. Former Hawkeye Bret Bielema, the head coach for Wisconsin at the time, saw something that made Iowa vulnerable for a fake punt and then exploited it.
Eastern Illinois did the same thing to Iowa in 2010. Penn State and Michigan State joined in the fun in 2011 and Northern Illinois joined the club in this year’s season opener.
So apparently it doesn’t matter if it’s a team from the Big Ten or from the Mid-American Conference.
The popular thing before Saturday was to blame Darrell Wilson and Lester Erb for Iowa’s inability to stop a fake punt. But they have since moved on to coaching positions at Rutgers and Nevada, respectively, leaving behind a problem that still hasn’t been corrected with Chris White in his first season coaching special teams.
The good news is that Iowa has two weeks to prepare for its game against Ohio State on Oct. 19 in Columbus. Or maybe that’s the bad news.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football