IOWA CITY — Kevonte Martin-Manley really screwed up. He left a little too early. He kind of turned the wrong way. It was really, really bad.
We’re talking about the postgame interview with the Big Ten Network, down on the Kinnick Stadium field after Iowa’s 59-3 dismantling of Western Michigan before a crowd of 66,886. Martin-Manley took off his helmet, took the headphones from coach Kirk Ferentz — coaches always get to go first — and left his coach hung up in the microphone cord attached to the camera.
That’s a total reach, of course. Pretty perfect day for Martin-Manley, whose punt returns of 83 and 63 yards for touchdowns gave Iowa a start. Pretty perfect day for cornerback B.J. Lowery, who returned two interceptions for touchdowns (35 and 13 yards) that came back-to-back in Iowa scoring. Pretty perfect day for the Hawkeyes (3-1), who scored touchdowns four different ways against the Broncos (0-4) and launched into Big Ten play next week at Minnesota (4-0) with a dominating victory.
“You know you didn’t play very well when the opposing head coach, who I respect and admire, just looks at you and goes, ‘Just one of those games,’ ” first-year WMU coach P.J. Fleck said. “Wow. Kirk Ferentz said it’s just one of those games, I guess it was. I mean, I don’t know. We didn’t play very well.”
Let’s dig in on Martin-Manley, whose 184 punt return yards fell 17 short of tying Nile Kinnick’s record of 201 punt return yards in a game (set in 1939).
After Martin-Manley, who came into the game with 34 career punt return yards, scored on the 63-yarder to give Iowa a 24-0 lead with 10:46 left in the second quarter, he didn’t get the green light for another return. He didn’t get a shot at taking down the record of the man the stadium is named after (not to mention that Kinnick’s Heisman acceptance speech is played on the video board before the national anthem at every home game).
“I was kind of bitter about that, that I wasn’t able to get it,” Martin-Manley said, of course with a huge smile on his face. “To even be mentioned in that category, I was truly humbled by it.”
WMU punter J. Schroeder uses the rugby-style. The thought, Fleck said, is that the ball bounces before it’s fielded. The first one did bounce, but safety Nico Law and linebacker Quinton Alston laid key blocks that opened a huge alley. The second punt return TD was a line drive right into Martin-Manley’s chest. Wide receiver Jacob Hillyer, who caught a 21-yard TD pass to give Iowa a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, and tight end George Kittle put on blocks that opened the sideline.
Martin-Manley had a fair catch in the second half. That was OK with Ferentz.
“With all due respect to Kevonte, I love the guy, he’s a great young man,” Ferentz said, “I think it’s OK that one [Kinnick's record] stayed where it’s at.”
Martin-Manley will have to be happy with being the first player in Iowa history with two punt returns for TDs in a game, tying a Big Ten record. He’s just the third Big Ten player to pull this off, with the last one being Ohio State’s Garcia Lane in 1983. And, yes, this is the best punt return day for Iowa since Kinnick went for 201 yards against Indiana on Oct. 7, 1939.
Martin-Manley showed speed that kind of surprised his teammates.
“Part of that might be confidence,” Ferentz said. “I wouldn’t disagree with you, and part of that is confidence and experience and also confidence in his teammates that they’re going to be working hard for him.”
Oh yes, Martin-Manley said, when you return a punt, everyone wants to tell you about the block they threw.
“Yeah, they do, they do,” Martin-Manley said. “It was Hillyer, Nico, Quinton Alston. They had the right to do it. Without those guys, I would’ve been down. I thanked them all after that.”
Lowery became the first player in Iowa history to return a pair of interceptions for TDs in a game.
The first pick six came off a blitz. WMU quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen didn’t see Lowery in zone coverage and threw right to him. Lowery returned it 35 yards to give the Hawkeyes a 38-3 halftime lead. Lowery was man-to-man on the second pick. He undercut an out route and strolled in from 13 yards.
Last week, Lowery ended up No. 4 on ESPN’s plays of the day with a one-handed, leaping interception against Iowa State. This week?
“I doubt it,” Lowery said with a laugh. “We’ll see.”
The offense started the game clunky, but the Hawkeyes ran 76 plays, including 58 rush attempts, the third game this season Iowa has logged 58 or more. It was the third time in four games the Hawkeyes churned out 400-plus yards (446) of total offense. Last season, they did that only twice.
The backup quarterback, C.J. Beathard, played. Running back Mark Weisman had just 10 carries, a little off his average of 28.33 coming into the game. The defense, which was all-second teamers midway through the third quarter, didn’t allow a pass play of more than 20 yards. It had allowed 10 2o-plus completions going in.
Check, check and check.
“Everybody should be happy we got our backup quarterback in, so that bodes well for the future, right?” Ferentz said with a nod to last year when James Vandenberg took every snap. “Weisman only had 10 carries, so it was a double-double victory this week.”
Iowa season stats
Iowa game notes vs. WMU
WMU coach P.J. Fleck
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz
Here’s that scene from the postgame. What did journalists ever do without Instagram?