Iowa State marked turning point for Duncan

For Keith Duncan, the turning point in his consensus All-American season came on Sept. 14 in Ames, Iowa.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa kicker Keith Duncan makes a practice kick during a football game between Iowa and Iowa State at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames on Saturday, September 14, 2019. The Hawkeyes retained the Cy-Hawk Trophy for the fifth consecutive year, downing the Cyclones, 18-17. (Shivansh Ahuja/The Daily Iowan)

Anna Kayser, Sports Editor

Keith Duncan’s consensus All-American season might never have happened if it didn’t rain in Ames on Sept. 14.

“I had the mindset in the [Iowa State] game, like put me anywhere on the field, and I will make it,” Duncan said. “Kicking free, that’s the mindset I want every single day.”

He made one field goal before the team returned to the locker room for a 49-minute lightning delay. Two quarters and another two-plus hour delay later, Iowa was down 7-3 going into the last play of the half.

He sent the football from a soaking-wet playing surface through the uprights from 40 yards out to bring Iowa within one.

Duncan made an even longer field goal in the third quarter and finished his 4-for-4 performance with a 39-yarder that ended up being the difference.

“After the Iowa State game, something switched a little bit,” Duncan said. “Maybe a light flickered on, but it definitely helped out.”

That performance, most notably for the weather conditions, is important for Duncan to look back on going into Friday’s Holiday Bowl against No. 22 USC. It has been raining in San Diego all week, something that is projected to continue.

That poses unique challenges for Iowa as a whole, but especially its special teams. Not only is it a new field for Duncan to get used to, but the draining of the natural-grass field can make things difficult.

Maneuvering the conditions is part of the 10 percent of kicking that is physical, Duncan said, referring to a common phrase. A lot of it — the other 90 percent — is mental.

“[At Iowa State] I did have to change some technique things just based on the weather,” Duncan said. “I had to be more under myself. I had to focus on where my balance was and weight was and my plant foot. But yeah, I think the biggest part of that game was confidence.”

Duncan’s performance earned him a consensus All-American honor, but not the Lou Groza Award for the top kicker in the nation.

He is the first to say that he doesn’t do it alone. The bond he has with long snapper Jackson Subbert and holder Colten Rastetter goes a long way — so far, in fact, that he brought both of them to Atlanta for the Lou Groza Award ceremony.

Duncan attributes the unit’s success to the way they were put together in the spring, led by special teams coordinator LeVar Woods. The focus, then, was on creating a bond, and now it’s paid off with the success on opportunities that Duncan has had.

“I think they bought in from the beginning,” Woods said. “They spent a bunch of time getting to know each other and forming a good bond and becoming good friends, and I think that’s paid off dividends for them.”

A lot of things change in football — the wind, the weather, the playing surface, the stadium atmosphere, and too many more to count. But for Duncan, his success rides on two things: his confidence and the help of his teammates.

“I know those guys will always be there for me and always execute,” Duncan said. “There hasn’t been one, I don’t think snap or hold that I’ve been iffy on or that I felt that could have been better.”

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