Iowa football: Routine-driven Keith Duncan could shatter Big Ten's field-goal record

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

When Iowa’s offense enters field-goal range on Saturdays, special-teams coordinator LeVar Woods makes sure to converse with snapper Jackson Subbert and holder Colten Rastetter.

As for Keith Duncan, the guy that’s actually going to attempt the kick?

“I don’t even know where Keith is,” Woods said, “before his kicks.”

And that’s by design.

Junior kicker Keith Duncan (3) has converted 22 of 25 field-goal attempts this season and has made a routine out of playing rock-paper-scissors with holder Colten Rastetter after makes.

Now in his third season as a full-timer with Iowa’s special teams, Woods explained on his Wednesday appearance on Hawk Central radio (on KxNO in Des Moines) that his specialists are passionately into the mental side of football. He doesn't want to disrupt their routines.

“(Kickers) don’t need me giving them any pep talks or anything,” Woods said. “Those guys are ready to go. As I call them, they’re trained killers; trained assassins. They know what they’re doing.”

Whatever Duncan is doing without Woods seeing him … it’s working.

The junior walk-on has arguably been the best placekicker in college football this season. His 22 field goals ties him with East Carolina’s Jake Verity (who has played 10 games, to Duncan’s nine) for the most in FBS. Duncan’s 22 successes already is a single-season Iowa record.

Up next: How about a Big Ten Conference record?

Duncan needs just three successful field goals — something he’s done four times this season in one game — to tie three kickers for the most in a Big Ten season. Iowa (6-3) has three regular-season games, plus a bowl, to go. 

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The league mark of 25 field goals is shared by Michigan’s Remy Hamilton (on 30 attempts in 12 games in 1994), Ohio State’s Mike Nugent (on 28 attempts in 14 games in 2002) and Purdue’s Ben Jones (on 30 attempts in 13 games in 2003). The national record, for what it's worth, is 31 by Georgia's Billy Bennett in 2003.

Duncan’s 22-for-25 success rate (88%) is even more impressive when you consider he has done so in less-than-ideal conditions. He went 4-for-4 on a rain-soaked field to deliver a clutch 18-17 win at Iowa State. He punched a 47-yarder against Penn State through a 20 mph wind. He went 2-for-3 on a wet, windy day at Northwestern. Of the five FBS kickers with 19 or more field goals this season, he’s the only one in the Midwest.

And a low percentage of his kicks have been chip shots. Duncan is 14-for-17 from 38 yards or longer. His makes for the season are from (in order) 21, 46, 19, 43, 25, 40, 42, 39, 49, 42, 22, 47, 24, 30, 44, 42, 38, 40, 28, 24, 40 and 39 yards.

“He has his own routine that he goes through,” Woods said. “A lot of that has come through a lot of hard work and preparation. He spends a tremendous amount of time, as all our specialists do, on the mental side of football: visualizing things before they happen, so that they’re not surprised.”

Duncan is one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award, given to the top kicker in college football. He is certainly deserving of being among the three finalists that will likely be announced a few days before Thanksgiving.

Woods told the amusing story of watching film and noticing that Duncan and Rastetter were playing rock-paper-scissors after successful field goals or PATs. Everyone notices that now.

“It’s part of the routine,” Woods said. “It keeps them focused, it keeps them loose, it allows them to have a little bit of fun. It’s all about staying in that moment, staying in that zone. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Most field goals in a Big Ten season

25: Ben Jones, Purdue (2003); Mike Nugent, Ohio State (2002); Remy Hamilton, Michigan (1994)

24: Griffin Oakes, Indiana (2015); Sam Ficken, Penn State (2014); Derek Dimke, Illinois (2010); Mike Nugent, Ohio State (2004); Chris White, Illinois (1984)

23: Jeff Budzien, Northwestern (2013); Dan Conroy, Michigan State (2012); Mike Bass, Illinois (1982)

22: 12 players, including Keith Duncan, Iowa (2019)*

*—four games remaining