So, having dispatched #4 Penn State 23-20 in the Big Ten's Game of the Season so far, an Iowa player did earn Big Ten Player of the Week honors when the league announced the weekly honors today. It just wasn't the Iowa player that we were expecting (demanding?) to be honored.
First: congratulations, Matt Hankins! The strength of Iowa's defense this season has been in its entirety; there are no standout superstars like a Desmond King or an A.J. Epenesa like we've seen in the past -- but there are eleven guys who know exactly what they're supposed to do and go out and do it, play after play, drive after drive, game after game. This year's Iowa defense is definitely a "whole is greater than the sum of its parts"-type situation. That's particularly apparent in Iowa's very egalitarian secondary, where four different players have at least two interceptions thus far and three different players recorded an interception against Penn State. (The fourth interception against PSU was snared by Jestin Jacobs, securing his first pick of the season and becoming the ninth different Iowa player to grab an interception.)
Hankins feels like a worthy avatar for the Iowa defense's performance against Penn State, though, and he did produce some big plays in the game, particularly late. His key tackle near midfield on fourth-and-3 with under four minutes to play stopped Penn State's last good chance to tie or win the game. That drive was showing a bit of promise, but Hankins' clutch hit on fourth down kept PSU short of the sticks and ended it before the Nittany Lions could score any more points. He also recorded an interception on the very next drive of the game that didn't officially clinch the victory (Iowa still had to punt the ball back to Penn State), but did put a cherry on top of the victory.
For his efforts, Hankins was also named Big Ten Player of the Week by the Rose Bowl:
Well done, Matt. We firmly appreciate your efforts.
But while we're happy to see Hankins get recognition for his play from the Big Ten offices, we're frankly baffled to see Tory Taylor get snubbed after producing several legitimately game-changing punts for Iowa. The special teams player the Big Ten honored, Michigan kicker Jacob Moody, had a fine game -- 4/4 on field goals, 2/2 on extra points, two field goals in the final three minutes, including the game-winner -- but it did not seem like a singular display of brilliance that no other Big Ten player could even earn Co-Player of the Week honors.
Taylor was critical in Iowa winning the field position battle -- and, ultimately, the game itself -- against Penn State. Six of his nine punts were fielded inside the 20-yard line. Five of those six punts were fielded inside the 10-yard line. And three of those five were fielded inside the 3-yard line. He backed Penn State up to their own end zone repeatedly and produced textbook examples of flipping the field -- again and again and again -- and helped keep Penn State's offense on tilt for much of the game. Overlooking his efforts in Iowa's victory is quite disappointing.