Special Teams Come Through in the Clutch

Oct. 28, 2007

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by Sean Neugent

IOWA CITY — They may be listed as freshmen in the game program, but punter Ryan Donahue and kicker Daniel Murray performed like seasoned veterans Saturday in helping the University of Iowa inch closer to a bowl berth after a thrilling 34-27 double-overtime victory against Michigan State.

The Hawkeye special teams, which have not played much of a significant role to date, sparked Iowa with a strong punting and kicking game. Murray came up with a career-best 10 points while Donahue took advantage of the wind as he punted the football eight times for a 51.6-yard average.

“Donahue and Murray had great games,” said Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen. “Donahue punted his butt off all day long. I think it was fourth-and-1 and we could have gone for it — the fans started booing when we didn’t go for it — and then we get an 82 yard punt and you kind of realize coach’s motives behind it.”

Murray has not been given many opportunities this year, but Head Coach Kirk Ferentz gave him three chances and Murray did not disappoint. The kicker converted 2-of-3 field goals, with both makes coming from beyond 40 yards. His first kick was a personal career-long 43-yarder before setting another personal best from 47 yards out later in the game. It marked the third time this season that Murray has made at least two field goals during a game (at Wisconsin and at Purdue). His miss came in the fourth quarter when he was wide left on a 40-yard attempt. Sophomore Austin Signor has been utilized mainly as the kickoff specialist.

Here’s another unexpected turn: Donahue’s 82 yard punt that nearly stopped dead at the Spartan’s 1-yard line before rolling into the end-zone ranks second-best in school history. The only player to punt further was in 1962 when Lonnie Rogers booted an 83-yarder against Oregon State. Donahue did not stop there as he also had punts of 55, 53, 50, 49 and 46 yards.

“He can be a great punter,” senior long snapper Dan Olszta said. “Every game he has improved more and more and this has probably been his best game. He has been more comfortable with what he is doing and he is improving every week, which is what we want.”

“The punt looked pretty good to us,” Ferentz said. “Every game for us is going to be tough, so the special teams are really critical. They are playing more mature. Signor has been doing a great job on the kickoffs and Dan Murray gives you a good feeling. All three of those guys are really thinking right, right now and concentrating.”

As Halloween approaches, the Iowa- Michigan State game certainly provided an odd and eerie sensation. The Hawkeyes appeared to be ghosts in the first half, mustering 71 offensive yards. They came out in the second half like a group of goblins ready to pounce on the Spartan’s every move. It was a day where Christensen threw for only 53 yards and a touchdown, with most of the yards coming in the two overtimes. Running back Albert Young appeared as the invisible man and the Spartan defense had trouble finding him throughout his 179 yards and two touchdowns. And the unlikely winning touchdown came from third-string running back and lone uninjured ranger, Jevon Pugh, who came in after Young took himself out with a shoulder injury.

Murray and Donahue showed a glimpse of a bright future for the very young Hawkeye team. Iowa has three games remaining on the regular-season schedule with a tough road game against Northwestern before coming back to historic Kinnick Stadium to play Minnesota and Western Michigan. The Hawkeyes need at least two more wins to secure a bowl bid, and they hope the double overtime momentum will continue on into the final games.

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