The Box Score: Iowa punt returns doing no favors


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The Iowa football enters its second bye week at 5-2 overall, 2-1 in the Big Ten. Even through seven games, it’s been hard to find the identity of this season’s Hawkeyes, for many reasons.

Still, the one constant has been the inconsistency of the special teams. In this week’s Box Score, we try to clarify why that’s been the case.

Kickoff returns — 25 yards per return (First in Big Ten, T-14th in Division I)

Perhaps it was good fortune when Mark Weisman returned the first kickoff of the season 49 yards. It was the only return Weisman has had this year.

Nonetheless, Iowa has done very well in this category, largely thanks to Jonathan Parker.

He’s returned a team-high eight kickoffs for an average of 29.75 yards, which would rank just outside of the top 10 in the nation. Parker is one-tenth of a return per game from qualifying for the leaderboard.

Jordan Canzeri is second on the team with 24.33 yards per return. Riley McCarron returned one kick 36 yards at Purdue, and Matt VandeBerg has the same total yardage but on two tries.

Punt returns — 4.58 yards per return (14th in Big Ten, 114th in Division I)

Iowa ranked 10th in the conference in this category after its loss to Iowa State on Sept. 13. The Hawkeyes have only been worse since.

McCarron, after returning from injury, relieved VandeBerg of his returning duties, but he has taken six punts a lowly combined 23 yards.

Even more, Desmond King muffed, and lost, a punt against Maryland. It didn’t come at a good time, either. Iowa would have had the ball at the Terrapins’ 45, down 3 points in the third quarter.

The majority of the time, Iowa doesn’t even get a chance to return punts, which is perhaps more on the coverage team. Occasionally, though, it can be a result of poor judgment from the returner.

McCarron has 14 fair catches, followed by VandenBerg with five and King with one.

Because this unit is so blatantly nonexistent, it’s fair to wonder why there hasn’t been any improvement. Whether it comes in the form of new pieces on the coverage team, replacing McCarron, or a new return scheme, Iowa needs improvement in this phase of the game to be successful as its schedule gets tougher.

Because of the team’s ineffectiveness, it certainly doesn’t help the Hawkeyes …

Starting Field Position — 72.9 yards from end zone (12th in Big Ten, 102nd in Division I)

This stat, from footballoutsiders.com, excludes starting field position in “garbage time.” Wisconsin and Rutgers are the two conference teams below Iowa.

Of course, there are plenty of other factors involved in where Iowa starts its drives, but this metric is telling enough. Part of the special teams — primarily the punt-return unit — must improve if Iowa is to have better chances to both score and win down the final stretch of the season.

It would be inaccurate to say the Hawkeyes punt-return game has totally wiped out the work Parker and the rest of the kickoff return unit have done, but there is one certainty in all of this: The punt-return game hasn’t done any favors for an offense that’s rated ninth in the Big Ten.

Follow @dannyapayne on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa football team.

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