'Punting is Winning' update: Iowa's Tory Taylor on pace for an obscure team record
Iowa’s 14th-ranked football team is taking the “Punting is Winning” mantra to the extreme.
Even though the Hawkeyes have an impressive 7-2 record, punter Tory Taylor is tied with Illinois' Blake Hayes for the Big Ten Conference lead with 58 punts. But Hayes has played 10 games; Taylor has played nine. That’s a Big Ten-high of 6.4 punts per game for the Hawkeyes’ 24-year-old Australian punter.
Only three players in FBS — Aaron Rodriguez of New Mexico (61 punts), Mason Hunt of Southern Mississippi (60) and Harrison Smith of Vanderbilt (59) — have attempted more punts. But they’re punting for teams with a combined 6-21 record.
Taylor punts for a team contending for a Big Ten Conference championship, with the Hawkeyes entering their final three games in a four-way tie for the West Division lead.
Of course, frequent punting is an indictment on Iowa’s 123rd-ranked offense. But Taylor’s statistics — a 45.8-yard average with 28 downed inside the 20-yard line — have made punting a good decision, typically, for the Hawkeyes.
“I tell Tory all the time that I feel like he’s the best punter in the country,” Iowa special teams coordinator LeVar Woods said Wednesday. “I don’t think I’m misspeaking when I say that.
“I know there are some people that are punting in different elements, different conditions, not much wind; altitude changes.
“You see some of these gaudy numbers from different conferences. But if you’re punting in the Big Ten — the wind changes from quarter to quarter in our conference. You watch Tory between TV breaks go out there (to check), has the wind changed? Has it adjusted? Those are not easy things to do for a punter or a kicker. It’s like playing golf. Your shot gets changed.”
Taylor was instrumental in the Hawkeyes’ two biggest wins of the season. He was the national special teams player of the week after his 51.1-yard average on eight punts in a 27-17 win at then-No. 9 Iowa State on Sept. 11; a 69-yard punt that day flipped the field and the game. Then, on Oct. 9 in a 23-20 win against No. 4 Penn State, six of Taylor’s nine punts were downed at the Nittany Lions’ 2-, 3-, 12-, 1-, 8- and 8-yard lines.
A strong argument could be made that Iowa doesn’t win either of those game without Taylor’s booming leg or directional prowess.
And now, Taylor finds himself on pace to set a dubious yet impressive record. With 2,655 total punt yards this season, the reigning Big Ten Punter of the Year needs 879 more to surpass the school-record 3,533 accumulated by Ryan Donohoe in Iowa’s forgettable 2007 season (6-6). Donohue used 86 punts that year to get there with a 41.1-yard average. Taylor would need to average 44 yards over his next 20 punts to set Iowa’s school record. Iowa is guaranteed at least four more games this season, counting a bowl.
Woods had no idea such a record existed or was in reach. Taylor probably didn't, either. It's reflective of the volume of punts (a team negative) and the distance at which he’s punting each try (an individual positive).
Taylor has become a celebrity of sorts in Iowa. He is wildly popular among Hawkeye fans. He partnered with Raygun to raise money for charity on sales of a “Punting is Winning” T-shirt with his name and jersey number (9) on the back.
Woods said he is careful to monitor Taylor’s workload in practice, considering he’s asked to punt a lot on Saturdays.
“I always look at the average and the net … never even thought about looking at total yardage," Woods said Wednesday. "Whatever happens with Tory happens, in regard to the season.
“I feel good about the way he’s practiced. He had a great practice yesterday, he had another great practice today."