Before we get too far into this, let’s assume Daniel Murray is healthy.
Remember the last time we saw Iowa’s kicker? He limped around noticeably after a botched fake field goal in Iowa’s Orange Bowl victory. In the postgame, he limped to the training room for a look. He was smiling and seemed to be a in good mood, but he’s the kicker and he was limping. Outside of a severed head, that’s the worst thing for a kicker.
Let’s assume he’s OK and will be ready to resume his role this fall. Yes, Murray had his shaky moments in ’09, but he’s a proven commodity and, if healthy, likely will hold off sophomore Trent Mossbrucker. (Asked last fall, coach Kirk Ferentz said he’s comfortable with two scholarship kickers.)
Starting around Michigan State, he started line driving field goals. This started a 2-for-5 stretched that ended with a thud, a 22-yard miss at Ohio State. You can’t pin the loss on the missed 22-yarder. Iowa gave up 229 rushing yards. That’s the stat of the game. But in a 27-24 OT loss, three points means the world and every kicker will tell you a 22-yard miss is not acceptable.
Murray rebounded, hitting his final three FGs of the season, including a pair in Iowa’s 12-0 victory over Minnesota.
It was an inconsistent season for Murray, but consider a few facts before you turn the page.
– Murray kicked more field goals than anyone in the Big Ten. He attempted one more than NU’s Stefan Demos and two more than Wisconsin’s Philip Welch. The more you kick, the more bad things can happen.
– Murray tied for the Big Ten lead in field goals made with 19. He and MSU’s Brett Swanson tied for No. 22 in the country. He knows how to get the job done.
– Murray finished with a field goal percentage of 73.1, fourth in the Big Ten. Only Swanson, MSU’s all-timer, broke into the 80s with 86.4. Murray was just .2 out of a tie for third place. You always want better, but this is an acceptable number.
For his career, Murray is 32 of 45, for 71 percent. For perspective, Nate Kaeding finished his career at 81 percent (67 of 83). Kyle Schlicher finished 76 percent (51 of 67). So, Murray isn’t Kaeding, but is in Schlicher’s ballpark.
Mossbrucker was on his way to a tremendous freshman season. Through nine games, he was 13 of 15. Then, facing a 31-yarder to beat then No. 3 Penn State, Ferentz tapped Murray. It’s pretty much been Murray since.
After seeing Murray, now a senior, and Mossbrucker side-by-side last August, I wrote, “Daniel Murray is the kicker. He has the stronger leg, but sophomore Trent Mossbrucker has clearly improved in that area. Ferentz did say that Mossbrucker could redshirt if he doesn’t win the job. The competition is close.”
Last spring, the gap in leg strength was wider. Here’s what I wrote then, “Quick impression, Murray’s job. He has a stronger leg. Mossbrucker might have the edge in accuracy. Murray clearly has the stronger leg.”
Mossbrucker has had a year to gear up. The few times I did focus on him in pregame, his leg seemed stronger.
Could there be split duties? That might be a possibility, but my thought is that they’d like one kicker to handle it all, so, in case of a quick decision, there’s really no decision.
Mossbrucker spent a year on the sidelines. He’s going to be a hungry player. Also, we’re assuming Murray is healthy.
One more assumption, in 2011 and beyond, this looks to be Mossbrucker’s job. Iowa offered Wisconsin prep Will Hagerup, but he picked Michigan. Mossbrucker will be a sophomore in 2010.
Mike Meyer (fr.) — Hours after I posted this, the Dubuque Wahlert kicker told Ferentz that he would accept a walk-on invitation to join the Hawkeyes. Here’s a story from the Telegraph Herald. Meyer might be the answer to Murray’s short kickoffs. His coach, Mike Mahoney, told the TH that Meyer had touchbacks ”80 to 90 percent” of the time. He set MVC records for longest field goal (56), most field goals in a season (nine) and in a game (four). He made four field goals, including from 56 and 49 yards on Sept. 18 against Dubuque Senior. He also led the MVC in punting with a 41.4-yard average. He’ll likely be in competition with Mossbrucker in 2011.
Meyer’s best shot at PT next season would be on kickoffs. If his leg is stronger than Murray’s and he can reach the goal line, he’ll definitely get a look. Murray’s kickoffs were short this season, but that also might’ve been design. Murray, I believe, has a strong leg.
Iowa has a good one in Ryan Donahue.
The senior had the longest punt in the Big Ten last season, a 73 yarder against Arizona, when he was named Big Ten co-special teams player of the week. He has the school record for punts in a season (86) and punt yardage in a season (3,533). He’s been a Ray Guy Award semifinalist the last two seasons.
Twenty-three of his 61 punts in 2009 were returned for an average of 5.7 yards. His 40.9 average was the lowest of his three-year career. He had 27 punts downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line and just five touchbacks. He also had 12 punts of 50-plus yards.
Iowa’s net punting went from 39.7 to 38.8, but that remained No. 4 in the Big Ten, more than respectable.
Donahue is a student of the craft with a whip for a leg. The NFL will notice the consistency he’s had during his career with the net punting stat. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper lists Donahue as the No. 1 punter in the 2011 draft.
Eric Guthrie (jr.) — He’s a 6-6, 240-pound walk-on from Nevada. He could be the guy in 2011.
Johnny Mullings (fr.) — The Bristol, England native, who moved to Australia and was an exchange student in Ottumwa, accepted a grayshirt scholarship offer that will kick in January 2011. The 6-4, 215-pounder averaged 45.1 yards a punt for Colston School in Australia. He reportedly had an 85-yarder in a JV game in Ottumwa, playing JV because of rules regarding exchange students. Punting is a skill he picked up while playing rugby. There was a YouTube video of him that was around earlier this fall. It has been taken down. Here’s a Rivals link. Not sure it’ll work, but impressive numbers.
Colin Sandeman (sr.) — The 6-1, 200-pounder solidified himself as Iowa’s top punt returner in 2009, averaging 9.0 yards a return, second in the Big Ten behind Purdue’s Aaron Valentine’s 12.1. This duty bounced around last fall. Sandeman missed fall camp with a hamstring injury and then missed two games because of a concussion. Five players returned punts, but Sandeman clearly had the best feel for it.
Paul Chaney Jr. (sr.) — He was next in early in the fall. He averaged 5.1 yards on eight returns. Chaney tore an ACL against Michigan on Oct. 10 during a punt return. He could be a No. 2 here next fall.
Tyler Sash (jr.) — Probably too valuable at safety to mess around here, especially with an unproven depth chart behind him. He returned four punts last season and averaged 4.0 yards a return.
Derrell Johnson-Koulianos (sr.) — DJK’s 99-yarder at Ohio State ended a streak of 242 kick returns without a TD. When DJK first started to emerge in 2007, he showed a feel for kick return. Ferentz said last fall he got somewhat tentative. Then last fall, he got his chance again and showed that feel was still there. DJK had only 12 returns, but his average of 31.5 yards was second in the Big Ten. He had 12 and Illinois wideout Arrelious Benn had 12. Benn averaged 26.5 yards.
Jewel Hampton (so.) — Hampton is working his way back from a torn ACL, so this might be crazy talk. But when Iowa’s kick return game stalled in 2008, Hampton put a charge in it. At one point, kick return was just something Iowa wanted to get through in 2008. Hampton took the job somewhere in the middle of the season and averaged 23.3 yards on 23 returns.
Brandon Wegher (so.) — He entered the kick return derby late in the season and showed a flair for it, averaging 23.8 yards on nine returns, which would’ve put him eighth in the Big Ten but he didn’t have enough returns to make the stats. (By the way, Wegher also finished 10th in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 53.4 yards a game.)
This was posted on YouTube by kirkferentzrocks. I think you’ll enjoy it. KFrocks doesn’t make stuff public usually, but I’m glad he did with this one. Only one I could find.
Andrew Schulze (sr.) — The 6-6, 255-pound senior will enter his fourth season as Iowa’s long snapper. In 2007, he handled field goals and PATs. The last two seasons he’s done field goals, PATs and punts. Can anyone remember a fumble? The snap on the Penn State ’08 field goal was a little high, but workable. I can’t remember any problems here. That’s a huge deal. Here’s a story The Gazette’s Scott Dochterman wrote on Schulze last season.
Charlie Knipper (fr.) — The 6-4, 220-pounder from Whitefish Bay, Wis., could be the heir apparent to Schulze.
Jason White (so.) — He’s a defensive back who converted from running back, so he’s built for contact. He made a splash on special teams this season and might be ready for the “Jayme Murphy Kill Bot” role.
Shane DiBona (fr.) — I don’t know if he has the wheels, but he’s 6-1, 225. He could take Jeff Tarpinian’s role, unless Tarpinian sticks on kick coverage, which could very well happen.
De’Andre Johnson (fr.) — Going totally wildcard here. He’s 5-8, 210. He’s won a state shot put championship in Florida. Now, he’s coming off an ACL repair, so he might not see the light of day in ’10, but I like the dimensions and the power. Don’t know about the speed.
We usually don’t know who the killer gunner is until the third or so game of the season. When we see him, though, we know him. Check the video below.
I was happy I could find this on the YouTubes. About 1:10 in, the Bob Sanders hit on Monquiz Wedlow during a kick return against Michigan State in 2000. You could argue this was the play from the player that changed the course of the Hawkeyes under Ferentz. Iowa won this game and ended a school-record 13-game losing streak, including 14 straight Big Ten games.
Here’s a story I wrote on that hit in 2000. (It’s not on the internet, sorry.)
IOWA CITY – He begins the play as a black-jerseyed dot in the distance. You may or may not see him close in. Seconds after impact, you may or may not know the license plate says “33.”
And then the search for mouthpiece and ego begins.
Freshman Bob Sanders plays football like a traffic accident.
He’s the traffic. Opposing kick returners are the accident.
“He’s a beast,” Iowa receiver Kevin Kasper said. “He’s an old-school baller. He just goes out there and knocks people down. I love watching the kid play, just a tough kid.”
Kasper speaks from experience. During two-a-day practices, Kasper’s job was to lay a crack-back block on Sanders, a 5-foot-9, 200-pound safety.
Kasper, a 6-1, 190-pounder, thought, the frosh is just a little guy, this will be easy.
“In two-a-days, I saw this little kid out there,” Kasper said. “Then I tried to throw a crack-back on him.
“He didn’t move.
“I thought I had an advantage on him, I was so much bigger and taller. I thought I could just knock him down. After the first day of practice, it was me running into him and me hurting, not him.”
You probably didn’t know Sanders before the season started. He was one of Iowa’s more unheralded freshman. The only scholarship offers he received were from Iowa and Ohio University.
During two-a-days, he worked his way onto Iowa’s special teams coverages and since has been collecting returners’ pelts.
And now, you probably know him.
“I love defense. I love hitting. I love being physical,” Sanders said. “I wouldn’t want to do anything else in the world.”
In the opener, he knocked Kansas State’s David Allen out of the game with a nasty open- field tackle on a punt return. Then, there was the hit on Iowa State’s J.J. Moses.
And then, there was Saturday’s knockout on Michigan State’s Monquiz Wedlow.
One second, Wedlow is returning a kick. The next, he’s Nikes over noggin.
“I think everybody probably knows who he is now,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “If you weren’t watching the Kansas State game, I think the first punt the other day he’s right there again. And certainly the tackle he made on the kickoff the other day.”
When coaches and players watch gamefilm, it can be a humbling experience. All the players’ frailties are laid naked. It’s a rare and giddy moment when a coach singles out a player – and keeps a finger on the rewind button.
It took about five minutes to go through Sanders’ hit on Wedlow during Sunday’s film breakdown.
“They put it on slo-mo and let it go,” Sanders said. “The guys were hollering. It’s great when you’re teammates get behind you like that.
“I even said, wow, after I saw it. I didn’t know I could do something like that.”
The hit knocked Ferentz back to the 1981 Nebraska game, a 10-7 Iowa victory.
“I remember Brian Skradis in ’81 set tempo that day (a hit on the opening kickoff),” Ferentz said. “When a guy makes that kind of play, they can do a lot for the whole team.”
Ferentz can thank his coaching mentor, Joe Moore, for Sanders.
Moore, a former offensive line coach at Notre Dame, among other places, helped coach Sanders at Cathedral Prep in Erie, Pa., last season.
The offers didn’t pour in for Sanders, who, at 5-9, wasn’t tall enough to register on a lot of Division I recruiting radars.
“There are a lot of schools that didn’t want me because of my height,” said Sanders, whose given first name is Demond. “Iowa gave me a chance.”
Moore called Ferentz and Ferentz beat Ohio to the punch.
“One thing Joe said is this guy is tough. And he said he’ll improve your special teams … that’s a good thing.”
Here is what Sanders is thinking while running full speed down field with a returner in the crosshairs:
“I’m thinking, whoever gets the ball, I’m going to hit him,” said Sanders, who’s earned playing time at strong safety in goal line situations.