Sept. 30, 2015
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By STEVE ROE
IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa assistant coach Chris White had the same confidence as kicker Marshall Koehn as the University of Iowa football game against Pittsburgh came down to the final play on Sept. 19 in Kinnick Stadium.
With the score tied at 24-24, Koehn was set to attempt a 57-yard game-winning field goal. Following a Panther timeout, Koehn drilled the game-winner, his fourth straight field goal of the season, all from at least 40 yards. The Hawkeyes followed that victory with a 62-16 win over North Texas to improve to 4-0 in nonconference play.
“We have extreme confidence in Marshall,” said White, Iowa’s running backs and special teams coach. “On that drive, our goal was to get the ball past the 50 to give him a shot. I think the entire sideline had a calmness, everyone just knew he was going to make it. You could see it in his eyes, that he had that confidence. He had the opportunity, he took advantage of it; good for him. He has worked so hard throughout his career and it is paying off for him right now.”
Koehn ranks second on the team in scoring with 29 points, and 75 percent of his kickoffs have been touchbacks. Senior Dillon Kidd is averaging 47.9 yards per punt — best in the Big Ten — while Koehn has averaged 56.5 yards on two punts.
“The end of last season left a bad taste in our mouths; how we ended the year, particularly in the punt coverage unit,” said White. We did a lot of soul searching, made a change in our protection and our coverage. Seth Wallace has done a great job with the protection; he has experience with the shield punt from his previous coaching. Having Marshall on kickoffs is a weapon, he has a powerful leg and we have a lot of touchbacks. When teams do bring the ball out, the guys are doing a good job of covering; they are excited to be on that unit.”
Iowa’s coverage teams have performed well during the first four games. Opponents are averaging just 19.2 yards on eight kickoff returns. Iowa’s return game is led by junior defensive back Desmond King, who is averaging 18.7 yards on punt returns and 22.8 yards on kickoff returns.
“They know what type of playmaker Desmond is on defense, and that carries over to special teams,” said White. “We made the commitment to play starters on special teams, we have to play our best players and improve our special teams play. Desmond has jumped in full speed. He has been so fired up to be the returner; the other guys see that and just give a little more effort on those units.”
Through four games, the Iowa rushing attack has also been a bright spot for the Hawkeyes. Senior running back Jordan Canzeri leads Iowa in all-purpose yards (316 rushing, 145 receiving) and scoring (48 points). Iowa is averaging more than 196 rushing yards per game. Five Hawkeye running backs have followed the lead blocking of fullbacks Macon Plewa and Adam Cox.
“Having the fullbacks healthy has been a real positive for us. Last year we missed Adam for the entire season, and Macon was banged up and not 100 percent for much of the season,” said White. “Last year, we just couldn’t get going; we are healthy right now.”
White is a big fan of Canzeri, who has 13 receptions to go with his team-best 63 rushing attempts, while becoming the complete running back as a senior.
“I can’t say enough about Jordan’s leadership,” said White. “In the running back room, he has taken control with his energy, and his selflessness. We deemed LeShun the starter at the start of the season, and Jordan didn’t bat an eye. He has been a team guy, and it has paid off for him. I am excited about the success he has had so far this season. Jordan has done a great job in the blitz pick up and catching the ball out of the backfield.”
The Hawkeyes return to action Saturday at Wisconsin (11:01 a.m., ESPN) to open Big Ten play. Iowa hosts Illinois on Saturday, Oct. 10 (11 a.m.), in its annual Homecoming game.
Tickets are on sale for each of Iowa’s four Big Ten Conference home games, and are available online at hawkeyesports.com, by calling 1-800-IA-HAWKS, or in person at the UI athletics ticket office located in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.