Special teams: B+
The final play of Iowa’s regular season was a game-winning field goal from Miguel Recinos as time expired against Nebraska. That’s a pretty solid ending to game No. 12 and also a lasting impression on Iowa’s special teams.
Recinos ended up having one of the better seasons from a Hawkeye kicker. He made 15 of his 20 attempts (75 percent) and didn’t miss a single extra point all season long.
Clutch gene factors into the grade as well — Recinos did miss a kick against Nebraska, but he drilled the game-winner as time expired.
“I would never say this to Coach [Kirk] Ferentz, but I always seem to be better after I miss one,” Recinos said after the game. “After I missed that one, I kind of got in a frame of mind — it just gets easier for me to block everything out because I kind of get angry. For me, that anger is positive.”
Kickers who perform well under pressure tend to be remembered fondly.
Recinos also did his part to make sure opponents had no shot on kick returns. On his 72 kickoffs, Recinos landed touchbacks on 35. That’s a touchback on 48.6 percent — almost 7 percentage points better than Iowa’s opponents this season.
Where Iowa did even better, though, was in the return game.
Ihmir Smith-Marsette was the best kick returner in the conference, and he earned the Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year award from the Big Ten.
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He had 19 returns, gaining 557 yards, which averages to nearly 30 years per return. His average of 29.32 ranked third in the country this season, and his 50.6 return yards per game ranks 17th.
Iowa’s kick-return unit averaged 33 yards or better in four games this season.
On punt returns, Kyle Groeneweg proved to be a more than viable option. On his 23 returns, he gained 234 yards (10.17 average), resulting in 19.5 punt-return yards per game.
His best game came in Iowa’s 63-0 win over Illinois. Groeneweg returned six punts for 103 yards — both marks season-highs for him — and he also took a kick back to the house for 6 points.
In that same game, Iowa blocked a punt. Credit to A.J. Epenesa for the chaos, as usual.
As far as punting went, Colten Rastetter appeared to have put his woeful 2017 campaign behind him early on. In the first game against Northern Illinois, he averaged 53.8 yards per kick on his four attempts.
Through Iowa’s first seven games, Rastetter had just two games in which he averaged fewer than 41.5 yards per kick.
But as the season wore on, his leg seemed to wear out as well. In the final five games, Rastetter had 25 punts for 906 yards. That’s a 36.2 average, nothing to be proud of.
If you’re hunting to find other miscues in the special-teams game, Iowa also had a blunder against Wisconsin in the Big Ten opener. A muffed punt and a fumble by Groeneweg ended up being pivotal moments in a game in which every score mattered.
Nevertheless, aside from a few gaffes here and there, Iowa’s special-team play took a major step in the right direction, at least compared with last season.
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