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Hawkeyes eying special teams

BY JACOB SHEYKO | OCTOBER 15, 2014 5:00 AM

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It’s not every day that a head coach brings up an opponent’s special teams unprompted.

But that’s what Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz did Tuesday when he met with the media. After briefly mentioning Maryland’s offense and defense, Ferentz dove straight in about the Terrapins’ prolific special teams.

“This will be as tough a challenge as we’ll have,” Ferentz said.

Ferentz specifically raved about Maryland’s placekicker and for good reason. Brad Craddock has yet to miss a kick all season, be it field goal or extra point.

He hasn’t had many chip shots, either. Of his 11 field-goal attempts, only one was inside 30 yards. Six of them were between 40-49 yards, and he’s made one 57 yarder.

While it didn’t look like it at the start of the season, Iowa counteracts Craddock with a strong kicker of its own: Marshall Koehn, who a couple of weeks ago was making headlines for missed field goals.

Those days seem long gone. After missing three of his first five field-goal attempts, Koehn has yet to miss a field goal in four games, making one attempt in each game, including a 44-yarder and one from 52 yards out.

Koehn is also second in the nation in touchback percentage — which could be huge when considering whom Maryland has returning kickoffs: Stefon Diggs.

Diggs is a household name. He was a highly recruited receiver out of high school. He still makes his name catching passes, but he’s also tied for third in the Big Ten in kickoff return average at 24.4 yards per return.

A much less household name is Maryland’s William Likely. The sophomore defensive back leads the Big Ten in punt-return average. While he has just eight returns, he averages 22 yards per return.

“He’s just a really good player,” Ferentz said. “He sounds like a tremendous young man as well. Not just as a football player, but everything he does.”

Going for it on fourth down

The perception is that Ferentz is a conservative coach. That may be the case, but the Hawkeyes have been aggressive this season on fourth down.

Iowa has gone for it on fourth down on 12 occasions this season and converted nine. The Hawkeyes’ 75 percent conversion rate is tied for 12th in the nation.

This is a step up from last season, where Iowa converted just 29.41 percent of its fourth-down attempts, which ranked 118th in the nation.

Getting the ball on most of those fourth downs is running back Mark Weisman, who since being inserted into the lineup three seasons ago, has served as the short-yardage back.

“We talked about third and short; I don’t know if we really talked about fourth and short,” Weisman said. “Coach Ferentz has that confidence in us to go for it, so we better go out and get it if we want to continue to go for those type of yardage situations.”

All of last season, Iowa went for it on fourth down just 17 times. At the Hawkeyes’ current pace, they will have gone for it 24 times by the end of the season, or even 26 times if Iowa makes it to a bowl game.

“[Ferentz] is really the one making the calls,” quarterback Jake Rudock said. “We’re just on the field when the call comes in … whether or not we go for it is really up to him, and we’re just going to try to execute.”

Injury updates

Ferentz said fullback Macon Plewa would not play against Maryland. Another player who will not play against Maryland is Darian Cooper, but that’s not exactly a surprise.

Cooper is rehabbing from season-ending knee surgery. However, he could still make the trip. He is from Elkridge, Maryland.

“Probably a discussion item for Thursday,” Ferentz said. “But he’s doing great. He’s really got a great attitude.”

That being said, right guard Jordan Walsh will try to get back on the field. He missed the majority of the Indiana game after injuring his ankle on the second play of the game.

“We have a bunch of guys that are nicked up right now,” Ferentz said. “I don’t think it was a crippling injury, so I think he’s got a chance. We’ll see what he looks like today and see how it goes during the week.”

Follow @JacobSheyko on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis of the Iowa football team.


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