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Australian punters expected to take center stage between Iowa, Rutgers

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IOWA CITY – Jack Campbell’s responsibilities on the Iowa punt team don’t allow him to savor the nuances of Tory Taylor’s work.

But when he does catch a glimpse of one of Taylor’s punts being downed inside the 5-yard line, Campbell enjoys the moment.

“It’s go time for the defense when he pins one deep,’’ Campbell said. “That’s when we get to go out there in attack mode.’’

Taylor’s game-altering skill has helped the Hawkeyes record a pair of safeties already this season as Iowa prepares for Saturday’s 6:10 p.m. Big Ten opener at Rutgers.

Field position created by two of the nation’s leading punters could play a major factor in how things play out at SHI Stadium, where the Scarlet Knights have lost their last 19 Big Ten home games.

Iowa’s Taylor and Adam Korsak of Rutgers share more than Australian roots.

Their ability to place the ball deep in opponents’ territory will be among the challenges for a pair of offenses which have struggled at times early this season.

Hawkeye fans, who have been chanting “MVP’’ whenever Taylor trots onto the field to punt this season, had a firsthand view of Korsak’s abilities when Iowa and Rutgers last met in 2019.

In that game at Kinnick Stadium, the Hawkeyes won 30-0 but Korsak was named the national punter of the week after he averaged 47.6 yards on 10 punts, including seven that were downed inside the 20-yard line and four that were downed inside the five.

Michael Sleep-Dalton was Iowa’s punter at the time, but after arriving in the United States, Taylor reached out to Korsak and the two Australian natives have communicated regularly since including earlier this week.

“I didn’t expect this to happen, but with extra year because of COVID he is still at Rutgers and we get the chance to be on the same field for the first time,’’ Taylor said. “He’s one of my friends so I wish all success to him. As long as we kick their butt on Saturday, that’s all that matters.’’

Playing for teams that have both won games this season without scoring an offensive touchdown, both have had plenty of work through the first three games of the season.

Rutgers at 3-0 and Iowa at 2-1 rank 13th and 14th, respectively in the Big Ten in total offense and both have needed strong punting games to get a leg up on their opposition.

Taylor leads the Big Ten and ranks third nationally with an average of 48.26 yards per punt this season. His 23 punts are five more than any other punter in the conference, and he has hit 11 punts 50 yards or more, had 13 downed inside the 20-yard line and has recorded just five touchbacks.

Korsak has not had a touchback since 2019, a streak of 136 punts without sending one into the end zone. The Scarlet Knights’ senior all-American has punted 12 times through three games and has averaged 42.08 yards.

“No touchbacks is something I wish I could emulate,’’ Taylor said. “I know he’s going to bring a lot of problems and issues for us. There are great punters in the Big Ten that we’re going to face and he’s one of them.’’

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz won’t dispute that.

“It’s a real impactful thing and this game is a great example,’’ Ferentz said. “You’ve got two punters that can really alter a game. We spent a lot of time trying to come out of the end zone the last time we played against this punter.’’

Ferentz said that only adds to the challenge the Hawkeyes face in their first road test of the season.

“It’s one more thing on the list, really impacts a game. It can be huge,’’ Ferentz said.

He saw that firsthand as a young coach, one of the reasons Ferentz won’t call Taylor the best punter he’s been around.

“I got to be here for two years of Reggie Roby,’’ Ferentz said, recalling the Waterloo native who earned all-American honors for Iowa after averaging 49.8 yards per punt in 1981.

Taylor finds the enthusiasm Iowa fans have shown for his work to be somewhat amusing.

He sees his ability to place the ball inside the 10-yard line as a byproduct of his time spent playing Australian Rules football growing up.

“It’s something I’ve been doing for years,’’ Taylor said. “Everyone kind of goes crazy when I put them inside the five, but really it’s not that difficult of a punt for me."

Taylor prefers to concentrate on his job this week and not get caught up in the individual punting match-up.

“I’m not worried about that. I just want to do my job,’’ Taylor said. “I’m happy with the way things have been going. I’ve been able to get more hang time on my kicks and that’s something I’ve wanted to do. That’s what I’m excited about, helping my teammates out the best I can.’’


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