We had a good feeling Iowa would end up with the winner of this week's Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week award... we just weren't quite sure who it would be, considering that there were two very worthy contenders. The winner? Charlie Jones, punt returner extraordinaire.
Jones, a Buffalo transfer who's managed to provide a marked improvement to Iowa's punt return game, earned Special Teams Player of the Week honors by virtue of returning five punts for 105 yards -- and, of course, one touchdown.
That touchdown is the main reason Jones earned this honor; if you return a kick for a touchdown, you're pretty much a shoo-in to win Special Teams Player of the Week. The touchdown run was the clear highlight of Jones' day, but he was effective throughout the game; his other four punt returns went for 51 yards, highlighted by a 31-yard return to the MSU 47 in the second quarter. That return to midfield set up Iowa's third touchdown of the game just a few minutes later and gave Iowa a robust 21-0 lead. Jones' returns led to 14 points in the second quarter as Iowa blew the game open, so he played a key role in Iowa's victory.
The touchdown was a perfect confluence of factors to create a scoring play. It was a poor kick by Michigan State, a low, line-drive that was extremely returnable. Jones got a good jump on the return and used a nice change-of-direction cut to go from his initial move right back to the left side of the field once he saw the gaping lane that opened up in that direction. That enormous lane was available because of excellent blocking from his Iowa teammates, who eliminated virtually every Michigan State player from the play. Only one Spartan -- diving at Jones' feet at the end of the return -- really came anywhere close to getting him down, and even he wasn't really that close.
While Jones had a very good game and is a deserving recipient of this honor, we'd be lying if we weren't hoping that he might at least share Big Ten Player of the Week honors with his teammate and our beloved Aussie import, punter Tory Taylor. Taylor was absolutely imperious on Saturday, drilling punt after punt after punt inside the Michigan State 10-yard line. He finished the game with seven punts for 341 yards, a majestic 45.9 yards per kick average. Six of those punts were downed inside the MSU 20-yard line and four were inside the MSU 10-yard line.
Everything was working for Taylor -- the distance was great, the placement was perfect, and the spin he was able to put on the ball to get it to die upon hitting the turf was remarkable. Saturday was arguably the best we've seen from Taylor so far this year, but he's set a high standard all season. Perhaps the best indicator of his peerless punting? Iowa is first in the nation in punt return defense, as his kicks have netted all of one return for -8 yards. He is absolutely killing it this season and it would have been nice to see the league office recognize his brilliance with a Player of the Week honor. Still, if he keeps this up there won't be any denying him the Big Ten Punter of the Year Award.
Congrats to Charlie Jones.