Iowa football: Special teams preview

iowa football

Iowa football player Kevonte Martin-Manley looks to keep his punt return average as high as it was last season.

Iowa football head coach Kirk Ferentz is known for loving field position and being conservative and he exhibits this the most in the way his special teams are run.

Ferentz consistently is criticized because of his special teams approach. These are some reasons why:

  • Ferentz consistently punts from the opponents 30 to 40 yardline, even on a 4th and 3.
  • Ferentz’s teams in the past are always beat on fake punts and field goals, even in obvious fake situations.
  • Ferentz’s teams have failed numerous times to recover opponent’s onside kicks.
  • Opponents have had tons of huge returns on Iowa’s punts and kicks.

It is one thing to list these things out; it is another to watch them. It is agonizing when everyone in the stadium except the Iowa coaches know that the opponents are going to do a fake punt. Then when Iowa has another miscue on an onside recovery it just drives you insane.

But this is a new season. While one can hope that those special team blunders are fixed this year, they probably won’t be. If they haven’t been fixed in the past 10 seasons, why would they be fixed now? With that said, let’s look at one of the most underwhelming position groups on this team, the special teams.

Kicker: Marshall Koehn (#1, Junior (RS), 6-feet, 195 pounds, Solon, IA)

Koehn right now is the listed starter on the depth chart for Iowa at kicker above senior Alden Haffer. The production Iowa will get out of Koehn is merely speculative as he has only seen the field once against Western Michigan where he was 1-1 on his only PAT attempt. He also did one kick off which went 62 yards so yeah, he will have to improve on that if he continues to do them this season.

Ferentz typically has decent kickers, not bad enough to worry about a 25 yard field goal, but shaky enough to get nervous for anything beyond 35 at an angle. One thing that is very nice about Iowa kickers though is their ability to hit PAT’s. It is not like Iowa State where they cheer when they actually MAKE an extra point, at Iowa it is expected. Koehn should have a solid year, but I wouldn’t count on a first year starter to be super clutch when it comes to making 40+ kicks, especially if the game is close. I could be wrong, but we will have to just see.

Punter: Connor Kornbrath (#98, Junior, 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, Bridgeport WV)

Connor Kornbath is a bit of an enigma with Iowa fans and Iowa coaches. He had a very shaky true freshman season with an average of 37.9 yards per punt and only 10 of his 53 punts were downed in the 20. For someone who loves field position like Ferentz, that isn’t very good.

His sophomore season was a lot better, he raised his yards per punt to 40 yards per punt, which isn’t good, but isn’t bad either. He drastically improved on the amount of punts downed in the 20, improving it to 27. 14 of those were downed in the 10, which tied him in third in the nation. While his pooch punting has improved greatly, he still needs to work on his punts from Iowa’s territory.

While he has some great punts, he is also known for booting (or should I say shanking) some 20 to 30 yard punts. Iowa coaches must have thought he required some pushing as they brought in junior college player Dillon Kidd to compete for the starting punter position. Now some schools don’t even have one punter on scholarship, but Iowa has two. Ferentz really loves his punters…

[Iowa football: Previewing the cornerbacks]

Punt returner: Kevonte Martin-Manley (#11, Senior (RS), 6-feet, 205 pounds, Brother Rice HS (Pontiac, MI))

The lone bright spot on special teams right now is Martin-Manley. He was a first team all-big ten returner by some publications like Phil Steele, Sporting News, and College Sports Madness. He was second in the big ten and ninth in the nation in punt return average. But he comes with a catch… His statistics are largely inflated.

Against Western Michigan, Martin-Manley returned back to back punts for touchdowns for a total of 146 yards. If you take those two touchdowns out of his stats, his punt returns average changes from 15.7 to 9.3. That’s going from one of the top in the nation to middle of the pack. I hope he continues returning punts for scores and it keeps his average up, but besides that game, he didn’t really flash too much. I mean, he had 184 punt return yards in that game, but 314 yards total for the season. Don’t expect him to match that average this season but expect him to be a smart returner and conservative returner with a lot of fair catches.

Kick returner: Jordan Canzeri (#33, Sophomore (RS), 5-foot-9, 192 pounds, Troy (NY) HS)

Iowa’s kick returner position is pretty wide open. Canzeri has returned 7 kickoffs for 123 yards total for an average of 17.6 which is just meh. Right now they are talking about him or fellow running backs Akrum Wadley or Jonathon Parker returning kickoffs but Canzeri is number one on the depth chart right now.

Besides Jordan Cotton, Iowa hasn’t had a threat at kickoffs since Andy Brodell in 2009. Hopefully they will find one as Iowa has pretty much relied on touchbacks on special teams when they don’t have a great returner, and nothing is more frustrating than consistently kneeling every time. Here is to hoping that one of those three players or possibly a true freshman steps up and is a real threat every time he touches the ball.