Iowa Hawkeyes' Special Teams Need To Be Perfect Against the Ball State Cardinals

Tim WeidemanAnalyst ISeptember 21, 2010

Arizona's Travis Cobb evades Iowa's Tyler Nielsen and Micha Hyde.
Arizona's Travis Cobb evades Iowa's Tyler Nielsen and Micha Hyde.Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Head coach Kirk Ferentz was not pleased with the Iowa Hawkeyes' special team effort Saturday night.

"Our special teams play was terrible," Ferentz told an ESPN reporter at the end of the second quarter. "We'll go into the locker room and talk about how we can play better in the last 30 minutes."

Kirk Ferentz was speaking of two incidents in particular: Ryan Donahue's blocked punt, which gave Arizona the ball at Iowa's doorstep, and a blown kick coverage that allowed Arizona's Travis Cobb to take the ball untouched 100 yards to the end zone after the Hawkeyes narrowed the difference to 14-7.

Iowa's special teams still came up short when it mattered most in the second half, allowing an Arizona defender to get a hand on Trent Mossbrucker's extra point attempt and keep the game tied at 27. Had the Hawkeyes gone up 28-27, the mindset of both teams would have been much different.

It would have been more difficult for Nick Foles and the Arizona Wildcats to come from behind than it was with Foles knowing he had plenty of time left and could take the game into overtime if Arizona didn't score.

In the end, special teams play cost Iowa more than any other factor.

Kirk Ferentz has no doubt shared with running backs and special teams coach Lester Erb that his unit has a lot to prove in the coming weeks. A flawless special teams performance against Ball State Saturday would go a long way in proving Erb's unit is solving the problems.

That would mean no blocked kicks and no big returns by the Cardinals.

Protecting against both may be a bigger challenge than most would assume.

In three games, Ball State RB Eric Williams has averaged just over 36 yards on seven returns. He hasn't recorded a touchdown yet, but don't think he isn't studying plenty of Iowa's kickoff coverage weaknesses this week with the intent of reaching pay dirt.

Williams will probably learn sometime this week that Iowa's kickoff coverage allows on average 30.9 yards per return. That ranks 116th in the nation.

Think he's excited?

But kick returns won't be the only cause for concern this week. The Cardinals also know how to get their hands on a ball.

In Week 1 against Southeast Missouri State, Ball State's Briggs Orsbon swatted a punt. The following week against Liberty, safety Sean Baker blocked what would have been a 50-yard field goal.

The warning is clear: Don't underestimate the test Ball State will give Iowa's special teams.