Kirk Ferentz: Returning punts opens door for foes to fake them

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Iowa's Kevonte Martin-Manley had two punt-return touchdowns in the Hawkeyes' rout of Western Michigan in September. But because Iowa was burned by fake punts in losses to Northern Illinois and Michigan State, Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said he is considering not returning any more punts this season.

And he claims he is "dead serious."

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One of the biggest plays in Michigan State's win over Iowa this past Saturday was a 25-yard run by the Spartans on a fake punt that set up a field goal early in the fourth quarter. In the season opener, Northern Illinois used a fake punt to start a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Hawkeyes.

"If you pressed me today, I'd say we may never return a punt again just because when you do that, you have to turn and go with those guys to shadow them," Ferentz said Tuesday during his weekly news conference. "When you do that, you open the door. And Michigan State did a pretty good job of taking advantage of it, to their credit."

What about the two Martin-Manley returns for scores?

"What helped us a couple of weeks ago we paid for on Saturday and cost us a field goal and a possession," Ferentz said. "So, yeah, I may be leaning towards where you never see us try to return one again. We may just try to catch it and keep it off the ground."

Despite Ferentz saying he is indeed "dead serious," it seems a rather dubious measure -- and one it seems doubtful Ferentz will follow through on when Iowa plays next, on Oct. 19 at Ohio State.

Iowa (4-2) has the toughest second-half schedule in the Big Ten, with games against Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan and Nebraska as well as the game with the Buckeyes. Is Ferentz really willing to sacrifice potential big plays in those games to guard against a potential fake punt that may never come? Martin-Manley leads the Big Ten and is second nationally in punt returns with a 25.8-yard average on nine returns. Iowa will need some splash plays to beat those teams.

Here's a better strategy: Work on stopping fake punts during practice. That's what most coaches do -- and unlike Ferentz, most of those coaches don't make almost $4 million a year.

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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