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Duncan has a Big Ten-record 27 field goals after making another four Saturday in Iowa's 19-10 win against Illinois. Chad Leistikow, Hawk Central

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IOWA CITY, Ia. — You’d expect to hear this toe-the-line coach speak from the head man or quarterback, not the plucky kicker who’s savoring every moment.

Keith Duncan, though, has his answers down pat. A snippet went like this.

“Right now, the focus is definitely on trying to be a 10-win team,” said Duncan, not budging on questions about scholarship status or setting records. “Personally, I feel like once your team goals have been set, you can think about your individual goals … Your individual goals will be accomplished once the team goals are accomplished. That’s my mindset right now.”  

Here’s another.

“Reflection for me will come after the season. Right now, we’re still trying to ground and pound, trying to get through the season.”   

Before this season, wondering where Duncan went seemed as legitimate as basking in his Michigan glory. Not anymore. Iowa’s reliable kicker has hardly left the spotlight during this unforgettable redshirt junior season.  

Saturday’s 19-10 win over Illinois threw Duncan back to his familiar podium. His four connections sandwiched around two misses gave him the Big Ten record for most field goals in a season — 27 and counting. With two games remaining, Duncan is within range of the national mark, set by Georgia’s Billy Bennett in 2003 (31).

It may not be the most appreciated benchmark, considering Iowa’s end-zone futility throughout has led to many more threes than sixes. But remember, Duncan didn’t even have the starting kicker job secured until late in the preseason.

For him to transform that uncertainty — coupled with the two absent years stuck behind Miguel Recinos — into history is rather remarkable.

“To me, the story is just Keith’s attitude,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I didn't know he could break the (Big Ten field goal) record. I had no idea. But to me, it's more about his attitude — the work ethic he's displayed — and he's a great teammate. Every day you see him, he's got a smile on his face. He's a positive guy.”

That shows up in Duncan’s postgame assessments. Although reluctant to reflect on the wider picture, Duncan hasn’t shied from analyzing his mental improvement. There were plenty of chances for confidence deterioration before this emphatic campaign. Small reminders here and there helped ease the disappointment.

“It was either you’re going the good way or the bad way,” Duncan said. “There was one time KF came over to me, after just a random practice in the middle of the season, and I was thinking, ‘He’s never going to say anything to me.’ And he said, ‘Hey, we still trust you. Get your mind right and you’ll be good.’

“And I was like, ‘OK, I’m still good.’”          

Duncan was good again Saturday, twice pushing Iowa out to two-score leads in the fourth quarter. On a day where the Hawkeyes offense reverted back to old trends, the trusted North Carolina native at least kept Iowa out of serious upset territory.

Given the narrow losses — three by a combined 14 points, all of which featured offensive disappearances — countless Hawkeye supporters will agonize over how close Iowa was to being elite. A few more touchdowns here, a little bit more consistency there, and Iowa could easily be heading to Indianapolis in two weeks.

But imagine where the Hawkeyes would be without Duncan. Cy-Hawk could’ve easily been a loss, perhaps Purdue and Illinois too. The lines between pedestrian, above average and historic are often razor thin in Iowa City. Duncan deserves credit for keeping the Hawkeyes above water.

“We’ve all got a lot faith in Keith,” said right tackle Tristan Wirfs, who teamed up with Duncan this week for a hilarious Tik Tok appearance. “We know if we’re in that range, and we can’t put points on the board offensively, he’s going to be there.

“Someone asked me if I was disappointed he missed two kicks (against Illinois). I can’t imagine how hard kicking is. I think of it like shot put, the smallest thing could be going wrong and you don’t know what it is … So I had faith Keith would figure it out, and he did. He hit the last two, and that’s all that matters.”                   

After another solid day, all that matters to Duncan is finishing this year strong. Then will come time for processing and reflecting.

Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at msouthard@gannett.com or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard. 

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