IOWA CITY — Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said after a fake punt burned his team against Michigan State last week that he was strongly considering never calling for a punt return again.
Tuesday, he was asked if he was being facetious.
“No, I was being dead serious,” Ferentz said.
Forever is a long time, which also is about the same amount of time in which Iowa has successfully defended a fake punt. Going back to the 2010 season, Iowa has had six fake punts executed against it, including two this season. In last week’s 26-14 loss to Michigan State, it led to an MSU field goal and took away an Iowa possession.
It wasn’t a killshot on the Hawkeyes, who are 4-2, 1-1 in the Big Ten heading into an Oct. 19 road trip to Ohio State, but it was re-opening an old wound that just doesn’t seem to want to heal.
Maybe Ferentz’s statement Saturday was rash. After a few days, though, he said it stands. Iowa can’t defend a fake punt, so Iowa won’t call a return.
“If you pressed me today, I’d say we may never try to return a punt again,” Ferentz said. “To do that, to block guys, you have to turn and go with those guys to shadow them. When you do that, you open the door. Michigan State did a good job of taking advantage of that.
“What helped us a couple of weeks ago [wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley's two punt returns for touchdowns vs. Western Michigan] we paid for on Saturday. It cost us a field goal and a possession. So yeah, I may be leaning toward the point where you never try to see us return one again. Just fair catch it and try to keep it off the ground.”
Whether this comes to fruition or not, Iowa suffered a few meaningful injuries last week. Ferentz offered a general update.
“We’ve been really fortunate this year thus far, at least. Lost a handful of guys Saturday, which didn’t help anything,” Ferentz said. “If we’re lucky at all, I think the guys have a pretty good chance to be ready by the end of the week. If we were playing Saturday, we would probably be in some trouble, but hopefully by the end of the week, early next week, we should be good.”
Martin-Manley (leg) and defensive end Dominic Alvis were (lower back) injured in the first half and didn’t return. Running back Mark Weisman (ankle), offensive tackle Brandon Scherff (leg) and defensive tackle Carl Davis (leg) left the game, but returned, although the plug was pulled on Weisman early in the second half.
Linebackers James Morris (undisclosed injury) and Christian Kirksey (ankle) left the game in the second half. Morris returned; Kirksey’s injury happened late, so he didn’t have a chance to test it.
Ferentz was asked specifically about Martin-Manley, who, coincidentally, also serves as the team’s main punt returner.
“We’ll see more next week,” he said. “I’m optimistic.”
Most of Iowa’s starters will have a light workload this week. Iowa coaches will be out recruiting. Younger players and players who haven’t seen much playing time will see more live contact this week.