The Iowa Hawkeyes are the number two team in the country, and it comes with a brand of football contrary to the norm. The term “punting is winning” happens to be a very real ingredient to the success of Iowa football. Hawkeye punter Tory Taylor has been reliable to the point where fans cheer when he enters the field, confident he will pin the opponent deep in their own territory. Iowa calls it “complementary football.” Taylor’s leg puts the other team in deep territory, the defense forces a stop, and the Hawkeyes take over with a short field. This formula has been consistent all season, and it has generated a 6-0 start along with Iowa’s highest ranking since 1985.
Of Taylor’s 40 total punts this season, he has been averaging 47 yards per punt. More importantly, however, his accuracy has been exceptional. Last week against Penn State, Taylor punted nine times. Five of his punts landed inside the 10-yard line, and three were pinned inside the three. His first punt of the day was downed at the two-yard line and resulted in the first-play interception for Iowa’s defense. The punt looked like a golf shot in that it landed at the one-yard line and bounced back into the arms of a Hawkeye player at the two.
Taylor also utilizes directional punting in short fields. Twice on Saturday, he punted to the near-side of the field, after kicking the ball at the fifty-yard line. These two forced the Penn State return man to catch it standing almost on the sideline inside the ten. Both of these punts were in the last three minutes of the game and suffocated Penn State from any chance to move the ball. In the biggest game of the season so far, Taylor played a pivotal role in the field position game.
Outside of the game against the Nittany Lions, Taylor’s best statistical game came against Iowa State in week two. He punted 8 times for 410 yards for an average of nearly 52 yards per attempt. Five of those punts landed inside the 20-yard line. That game was a battle of field position all afternoon. The Hawkeyes finished with half as many yards as the Cyclones, yet still won the game by 10 points. Iowa State’s average starting field position was their own 20-yard line. Iowa’s, on the other hand, was their own 42-yard line. The punt-caused field position made all the difference in that matchup, and Iowa cruised.
At Iowa, Punting is Winning
When looking statistically at Taylor’s punting, he has the most total punt yards in the country and the fourth-most punt attempts. Only New Mexico State, Vanderbilt, and New Mexico have more punts on the year. Teams like UMass, ULM, and FIU are up there with similar punting attempts as well. There are two significant differences between Iowa and those teams. One, Iowa is the second-best team in the country. The other is that Iowa uses the punt as a form of offense, not defense. When Taylor trots out onto the field, confidence is high that he will pin the other team deep. With the level of defensive efficiency this Hawkeye team has, the punt unit becomes an offensive weapon in gaining field position. With a short field, the Hawkeye offense has been productive, and it all starts with the punt. After a successful Taylor boot, the punt team leaves the field receiving the same level of applause as a touchdown.