Fresh off its first rivalry game victory of the season, Iowa picked up its first Big Ten Player of the Week honors of the season today. One of those was very much expected after Saturday's game. The other... is a bit more surprising.
First the more obvious selection, Keith Duncan for Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week:
This one seemed like a lock as soon as Saturday's game was over. Put simply, Iowa does not win that game without Keith Duncan. He was magnificent in the game, drilling four field goals (one in each quarter). We can quibble with some of the decision-making or clock management that led to a few of those field goal attempts, but the kicks themselves were flawless. I believe all four kicks were practically centered between the goalposts. Nor were they chip shots -- the first kick was from just 25 yards out, but the remaining three kicks were from 40, 42, and 39 yards out. He also made all four kicks in sub-optimal field conditions, as he described to Steve Batterson of The Quad City Times:
His final three kicks came after Duncan slipped on the rain-soaked turf while warming up following the game’s second weather delay.
“I just had to shorten my stance and put more weight on the middle of my plant foot to make it work, just an adjustment,’’ Duncan said.
This is Duncan's second Big Ten Player of the Week honor -- and you probably remember the circumstances that led to his first POTW honor. After his instantly legendary game-winning kick to knock off Michigan, Duncan, then a freshman, seemed poised to become Iowa's next great kicker. But his story took some unexpected twists and turns after that. Miguel Recinos won the placekicker job in 2017 and retained it in 2018. Duncan redshirted in 2017 and sat behind Recinos last year.
Recinos' graduation after 2018 opened the door for Duncan to return to the starting job in 2019, but he still had to fend off a spirited challenge from Caleb Shudak during spring and fall practice (and even going into the Iowa State game, Shudak and Duncan were listed as co-starters at kicker on the latest depth chart). But Duncan persevered through all of that and his reward was a starring moment in another big game. Given his performance here and in the Michigan game back in 2016, there's no questioning Duncan's ability to perform in clutch moments. That's a great weapon to have for a team likely to play as many close games as Iowa.
Iowa's second Player of the Week honoree was a bit more surprising, as the Big Ten tabbed D.J. Johnson as Co-Freshmen of the Week.
I say "surprising" because no one would have imagined Johnson would be in a position to be considered for B1G Player of the Week honors of any sort after the way the game started. Johnson leapt into action on a lateral from Iowa State quarterback Brock Purdy to receiver Deshaunte Jones, running toward Jones to make a tackle. Unfortunately, in doing so he left another receiver, La'Michael Pettway, wide open to complete an easy 51-yard touchdown pass from Jones. Johnson may have also borne some of the responsibility for Iowa State's second touchdown (the 73-yard heave to Tarique Milton to start the third quarter); there was definitely a significant breakdown in Iowa's secondary on that play.
But Johnson's play improved as the game went along; he was in better position and displayed some assured tackling. He had eight tackles overall, including seven solo stops. Of course, one of the reasons that number was as high was because Iowa State was consistently (and understandably) targeting him as the weak link of Iowa's secondary. But Johnson was also credited with a sack (Iowa's only actual sack of the game, though they got pressure in other ways, too) and he managed to record two pass breakups, including one on Iowa State's final drive of the game. (He was very nearly the goat again on that drive, when it looked like he was going to get flagged for a pass interference call, but that flag was thankfully offset by a holding penalty on Iowa State. That would have been a particularly harsh P.I. call, given that Johnson was only a split-second early to the receiver because of how poorly the pass was thrown.)
Johnson has had some rough moments in the early going this season, including some hiccups against Miami (OH) that led the coaches to effectively scuttle the "cash" role in Iowa's defense for the time being. But that's the nature of the beast with defensive backs -- any mistakes you make tend to magnified, as they're likely to lead to big plays (or scores) for the other team. Johnson has flashed a lot of potential as well, though, and given us some promising glimpses of what could be yet another very good Iowa cornerback on the other side of those growing pains.
Congratulations to both Duncan and Johnson.