Iowa football’s special teams consistent throughout first half of season

The Hawkeyes’ special teams unit has been integral to its success in the first half of the season.

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Jerod Ringwald

Iowa punter Tory Taylor kicks the ball away during a football game between No. 3 Iowa and No. 4 Penn State at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021.

Chloe Peterson, Assistant Sports Editor


Iowa football’s special teams unit has been the X-factor for the Hawkeyes this season.

Sixth-year senior kicker Caleb Shudak has converted on 11 of his 13 field goal attempts this season, and is a perfect 23-for-23 on extra points.

Australian sophomore punter Tory Taylor, who had not stepped foot on an American football field until 2019, averages 46.1 yards per punt. Taylor has notched 12 punts over 50 yards so far in the 2021 season, flipping the field for the Hawkeye defense.

“I’m happy with where we’re at, as far as how our special teams have been playing, how we’ve been helping contribute to wins,” special teams coordinator LeVar Woods said at a press conference on Oct. 20. “Definitely not satisfied, there’s a lot more out there for our football team and for our special teams to help us, win football games.”

The then-No. 2 Hawkeyes fell to then-unranked Purdue, 24-7, Oct. 16 to head into their bye week. The loss knocked the Hawkeyes down to No. 11 in the AP Poll.

Some facets of special teams, along with the Hawkeye offense, struggled in the loss.

RELATED: Iowa football notebook: Evaluating the Hawkeyes during the bye week

Shudak missed a 25-yard field goal in the second quarter, and Taylor only averaged 40.7 yards per punt. Although, the punter still downed one within the 20-yard line.

But the Hawkeyes don’t let their emotions get the best of them, in or outside of the game.

“One thing about our team that I really appreciate and respect is consistency,” strength and conditioning coordinator Raimond Braithwaite said. “These guys are extremely even. Never try to get too high, never get too low, and I think that’s a question of our leadership. And they understand that one game is not a season, and there’s five more games to go.”

And consistency is what makes the special teams phase an entire unit — not just an individual.

Woods stressed that no one player on special teams can change the tone of the game, or the play, himself. There are multiple players around the difference-maker, he said.

True freshman Luke Elkin, a walk on from Neenah, Wisconsin, took over snapping duties from senior Austin Spiewak earlier this season. Senior Ryan Gersonade acts as the holder for Taylor and Shudak in game time.

“I’ll talk about Tory. He’s punting the ball well. He’s not doing that without the snap,” Woods said. “With the snap comes great coverage from our coverage unit and guys protecting them on front. I think they’ll be the first to tell you — the same thing with Caleb, kicking the ball well, scoring points, putting the ball in the net, however, can’t do that without the smooth operation of the snap or the holder, and then the protection.”

Woods mentioned the special teams unit took the bye week to tweak their personnel and improve scheme heading into the second half of the season.

The Hawkeyes kick off the final five-game stretch with a matchup against Wisconsin on Saturday at 11 a.m. at Camp Randall Stadium in Madison.

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