Poor punt coverage puts Hawkeyes in a bad spot

Andrew Logue

IOWA CITY, Ia. – Shoddy punt coverage tipped the field in Nebraska's favor Friday.

De'Mornay Pierson-El returned consecutive punts for a total of 121 yards, helping the Cornhuskers turn a 24-14 deficit into a 28-24 lead with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter.

"We gave him too much space and he got going," Iowa safety Jordan Lomax said. "When you give a punt returner space and he has time to figure out where he wants to go and set up his blocks … That's when it can get pretty dangerous."

Pierson-El started with a 41-yard return to the Hawkeyes' 32-yard line. On the next play, Tommy Armstrong Jr. threw a 32-yard touchdown to Kenny Bell.

"They came out and had a double-vice on our gunners," linebacker Quinton Alston said. "They did a good job setting up their blocking schemes and blocked it well.

"They executed better. That's all it is."

Dillon Kidd booted his next punt 38 yards. Pierson-El fielded it at the 20 and found another lane to the end zone.

"Very often special teams is underrated," Alston said. "A lot of people don't give it as much credit or importance as they should.

"You just can't let big returns like that. That's a big emotional swing."

Until that point, Iowa's special teams were stellar. Carl Davis blocked a field goal and Drew Ott scooped up a botched punt and ran 12 yards for a touchdown.

Maybe things would have been different if the Hawkeyes kicked away from Pierson-El, who was leading the Big Ten with 15.2 yards per return and had scored two previous touchdowns this season.

"Yeah, we had a plan," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It didn't exactly work the way we hoped. And then you've got to get down there and cover, too.

"You've got to disrupt him, can't let him get started up field."