Iowa football notebook | Special teams a strength for both Hawkeyes, Wolverines

Iowa kicker Caleb Shudak and Michigan kicker Jake Moody both earned All-Big Ten honors on Tuesday.


Jerod Ringwald

Iowa kicker Caleb Shudak kicks an extra point during a football game between No. 16 Iowa and Nebraska at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Nebraska, on Friday, Nov. 26, 2021. Shudak went 4-4 in field goal attempts with a long of 51 yards. The Hawkeyes defeated the Cornhuskers 28-21.

Robert Read, Pregame Editor

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz was pleased to recognize kicker Caleb Shudak as the reigning Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week during his press conference on Tuesday. An award snub, though, was clearly still on Ferentz’s mind.

“[Shudak] has had a great season,” Ferentz said. “Maybe a little disappointed he wasn’t in as a Groza Award finalist.”

The Lou Groza Award is given annually to the best kicker in the nation.

Shudak has nailed 22 of his 25 field goal attempts on the season, including four-of-six on kicks over 50 yards. The sixth-year senior was not named a finalist for the Groza Award last week, which caused punter Tory Taylor to question who votes on the award.

​​”Are they just sitting around smoking a cigar, having a beer and deciding who is going to win the Lou Groza?” Taylor said.

One of the three finalists for the award will be on the sideline opposite of Shudak on Saturday in the Big Ten Championship Game — Michigan’s Jake Moody. Overall, the Hawkeyes and the Wolverines present perhaps the two best collective special teams units in the Big Ten, and two of the best in the country.

Michigan return specialist A.J. Henning was named third-team All-Big Ten. Taylor was an honorable mention at punter, while Iowa’s Charlie Jones was a first-team return specialist and the conference’s returner of the year. Moody has hit 22 of his 24 field goals this season and was named first-team All-Big Ten by the conferences’ coaches. Shudak was named first-team All-Big Ten by the conference’s media members.

“I was kind of surprised when I was a semifinalist [for the Groza],” Shudak said. “I didn’t really think about that. But to be mentioned in the conversation with guys like [Ohio State’s Noah] Ruggles and Moody … those guys are incredibly good kickers. I think our team goals are more important.”

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Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh said on Sunday that he can tell Iowa is a team that devotes a lot of time to special teams.

That was evident in Iowa’s win over Nebraska. Against the Cornhuskers, Shudak hit all four of his field goal attempts, Taylor downed a punt at the Nebraska 7-yard line that led to a safety, and the Hawkeye punt return team blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown to spark Iowa’s 28-21 comeback victory.

Shudak, in his first year as Iowa’s starting kicker, said he will be kicking indoors for a game for the first time at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday. Between the controlled temperature and lack of wind, Shudak said he expects his range to be between 58-60 yards.

“Bottom line, you’ll probably see two of the best place kickers in college football in this game on Saturday,” Ferentz said.

Petras getting the start in Indianapolis

The Hawkeyes released a depth chart on Monday ahead of the championship game that listed Spencer Petras as Iowa’s starting quarterback. During his press conference on Tuesday, Ferentz confirmed that Petras will lead the Hawkeyes against the Wolverines.

Petras, who started every game for Iowa last season and the first nine games of the 2021 campaign, injured his throwing shoulder against Wisconsin on Oct. 30. Alex Padilla, the backup for most of the last two seasons, took over for Petras in the first quarter of the next week’s game against Northwestern, and started against Minnesota, Illinois, and Nebraska.

Padilla was pulled at halftime against the Huskers with the Hawkeyes down eight points. Petras played quarterback for Iowa in the second half of that game.

“It was a gut feeling Saturday,” Ferentz said. “We just went with it. And we’ll continue to do that moving forward. But we’ll start the game with Spencer. I thought he did a good job. He’s done a lot of good things for over two years right now, and we haven’t forgotten about that at all.”

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Padilla went 6-of-14 for 76 yards and had multiple passes go through the hands of Nebraska defenders in his third career start. Padilla went 6-of-17 for 83 yards and an interception in last week’s win against Illinois. In relief of Padilla against Nebraska, Petras went 7-of-13 passing for 102 yards — including a crucial 24-yard pass to Nico Ragaini on a third-and-14 play — and a rushing touchdown in Iowa’s comeback win.

Petras has completed 58.1 percent of his passes this season and thrown nine touchdowns compared to six interceptions. Padilla, who presents more mobility as a signal caller, is completing 46.4 percent of his passes and has thrown two touchdowns compared to one interception this season.

“The way I see it, I got hurt and Alex stepped in and did a really good job,” Petras said. “I think this time of the year, it’s not as much of a competition. That takes place in fall camp. It’s more so who can help the team win the best that week. And when I was hurt, that was certainly Alex. Seems like right now, it’s me.”

Roberts expected to play

Iowa cornerback Terry Roberts, who is also a standout gunner on special teams, is expected to play this week against Michigan, Ferentz said. Roberts has not played since Oct. 16 against Purdue because of a bone bruise on his lower body.

The junior has practiced this week, per Ferentz.

“We’re not out of the woods yet but we’re getting close,” Ferentz said. “It’s been a long, tough path. Bone bruise, basically. And it’s kind of hard. And there is, at least my experience, no way to accurately predict how long a guy is going to be out. But he seemed pretty functional yesterday and today. And seems like his spirits are up. So that’s good.”

Roberts entered the season as Iowa’s No. 3 cornerback behind seniors Matt Hankins and Riley Moss. Ferentz confirmed on Sunday that Hankins would not play against Michigan because of a lower-body injury, and added Tuesday that the fifth-year senior is likely out for the bowl game, as well.

Jermari Harris, who recorded a game-sealing interception against Nebraska, has started games opposite Moss in Hankins’ absence. Ferentz said it’s unclear if Roberts will start at cornerback over Harris this week, or if he will primarily play special teams.

“That’s something we’ll talk about,” Ferentz said. “But Jermari has done a good job. He went from being a young kid who has never played and now he has a couple games under his belt.”

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