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Notebook: Kick return unit leads conference

BY CODY GOODWIN | NOVEMBER 05, 2014 5:00 AM

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Jonathan Parker took Iowa fans on a roller-coaster ride to open the game against Northwestern. He initially muffed the kickoff, then corralled the ball and scooted downfield for 54 yards.

“You know, JP, whenever he muffs the ball back there, he gets a 50-yard return,” running back Mark Weisman said. “Maybe he should muff it every time.”

Scary as some of the returns may be, Iowa’s kickoff-return unit ranks as the best in the Big Ten and fifth in the nation at 26.5 yards per return.

Weisman credited the success to the unit’s frontline of Cole Fisher, Travis Perry, Ben Niemann, Jacob Hillyer, and George Kittle — though Kittle was replaced by fellow tight end Jake Duzey against the Wildcats.

“They get back, plant, then punch them,” Weisman said. “They do a really good job of it.”

Head coach Kirk Ferentz said it’s a combination of Parker’s speed and playmaking ability and the blocking scheme by special-team coordinator Chris White.

“That’s one of the harder jobs in football, to block that frontline on kick return,” Ferentz said. “So those guys have been working at it all season long, going back to camp. And even in the spring.

“And if we’re doing a good job up there and the guys in the back are doing a pretty good job, then you’ve got a guy who can return the ball, it all kind of goes together. But you almost need all of that to have some success.”

Players want to retain Floyd

The Floyd of Rosedale, the massive bronze pig trophy, is at stake on Saturday when Iowa travels to Minneapolis to play the Gophers. The teams have battled for Floyd since the states’ governors made a bet in 1935.

Since Floyd has been on the line, Minnesota owns a 42-36-2 advantage — the Gophers hold a 61-44-2 advantage all-time — but Iowa won the most-recent meeting, 23-7, last year at TCF Bank Stadium.
Iowa players, obviously, would like to retain Floyd for the third-straight year.

“It’s a huge motivation,” offensive tackle Andrew Donnal said. “It’s bragging rights for the entire year. A trophy game is a lot bigger than just a single game.”

While players said on Tuesday it was more important to take it one game at a time, there’s reason to believe this week’s game against Minnesota carries a little more meaning.

On Tuesday, while Ferentz talked with the media, the Minnesota fight song could be heard playing in the Iowa training area.

Even more, Minnesota students have a habit of yelling a “Who Hates Iowa? We Hate Iowa” chant during games in which their team isn’t playing the Hawkeyes.

Still, Iowa players do their best to tune out the noise and make it appear as though the game is the most important if only because it’s the next one.

“Every Big Ten game is important to us,” Perry said. “They’re the next opponent in our way. We’re going to go out there and try as hard as we can, just like every single game.”

Injury updates

Ferentz announced on Tuesday that running back Jordan Canzeri and tight end George Kittle “will have a chance” to play on against Minnesota.

Canzeri sat out from last week’s game against Northwestern with a high ankle sprain. Kittle also sat out of Iowa’s most-recent win.

“We’ll have to see how they do in practice,” Ferentz said. “They’ll both be out there today, and hopefully, they can move around. They’re a little bit better than they were last week.”

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


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