Playmakers key Hawkeyes' improvement
IOWA CITY (AP) — Iowa has stayed healthy so far this season and found some surprising playmakers, key developments in getting off to a good start.
The Hawkeyes (3-1) scored four touchdowns on returns in a 59-3 win last week over Western Michigan. This explosiveness is new — Iowa was a dreadful 113th in points scored per game in 2012.
The Hawkeyes have already scored TDs in five different ways this season, including punt, interception and fumble returns, and are now averaging 35.3 points through four games — including three straight wins.
“It didn’t come out of nowhere,” receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley said. “It’s a mindset that’s going on. Every guy feels like he can be the guy to make the play. You can’t wait on anyone else to make that play for you. If you’ve got 11 guys on the field that feel that way, somebody’s going to make the play.”
It seems somewhat ironic that a team with nearly 55 rushes a game would also be more explosive than ever heading into Saturday’s Big Ten opener at Minnesota (4-0). Credit Martin-Manley and cornerback B.J. Lowery for helping spearhead a scoring resurgence.
Martin-Manley led the Hawkeyes with 52 receptions and shared the team lead with 571 yards receiving in 2012. But he had just two TD receptions, and it was fair to wonder if he was more of a possession guy than a No. 1 receiver.
Martin-Manley is now on pace for 80 catches, nearly three times more than anyone else on the Hawkeyes. His yards per catch are down to just 8.4, but that’s partly because he has been a safety valve for first-year starting quarterback Jake Rudock. Martin-Manley showed how potent he can be last week with punt return TDs of 83 and 63 yards, becoming the first Big Ten player in 30 years and the first Iowa player ever to accomplish that feat.
Martin-Manley’s performance was also validation of Iowa’s steady progression under first-year special teams coordinator Chris White.
“Kevonte’s effort was good, but the best part to me was the 10 guys away from the ball were doing a good job. And then there were a lot of the things I think subtly that took place on special teams that were encouraging,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Martin-Manley’s record effort last week nearly obscured a tremendous game from Lowery, who had interception returns for 35 and 13 yards for TDs. Lowery also made a leaping, one-handed interception to help keep Iowa from blowing a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter of a win over Iowa State.
Playing alongside a true freshman in Desmond King, Lowery has emerged as one of the more dangerous cornerbacks in the Big Ten.
“He’s done a really good job. He’s one of the guys that comes to mind ... that really had outstanding springs,” Ferentz said. “He’s truly a leader there and does a great job on our special teams.”
Mark Weisman, the nation’s leader with 95 carries, is looked upon to sustain drives rather than break off long TD runs. But his bruising presence has helped free up the Hawkeyes to complete four passes of at least 40 yards — a major boost for a team that averaged a dismal 5.8 yards per attempt in 2012.
Rudock has also shown the ability to scramble for big yards at key moments with a team-high four touchdown runs.
“For us to have a good football team, our best guys have to step forward, our most experienced guys,” Ferentz said. “For us to move forward we’re going to need that same kind of production from our veteran guys.”