IOWA CITY | All week long, Iowa coaches told Kevonte Martin-Manley the potential to gain yards on punt returns would be there.
Even before he took one 83 yards into the end zone Saturday, Martin-Manley saw what they were talking about.
The junior and Riley McCarron combined to return six punts for 192 yards in the Hawkeyes’ 59-3 rout of Western Michigan at Kinnick Stadium, an effort helped by a defensive effort that forced the Broncos into three-and-outs on their first six possessions of the game.
“Those guys did a great job of getting off the field right away and that’s where it starts,’’ Martin-Manley said. “They didn’t give their offense a chance to get going and that gave us a chance to field a few punts.’’
Less than a minute into the game, Martin-Manley returned his first opportunity 44 yards to the Western Michigan 22-yard line to set up a drive that led to a 20-yard field goal by Mike Meyer.
“When I got out there, I could see right away what was going to be there for us with the way they were set up,’’ Martin-Manley said. “The middle was wide open. The coaches saw that, mentioned that it might be there and it was. It gave me a place to start.’’
That helped finish any hopes the Broncos had of springing an upset.
After Martin-Manley scored his first touchdown, breaking through the middle and then cutting left with key blocks from Nico Law and Quinton Alston, Western Michigan switched to rugby-style punts.
“The rugby kick is supposed to bounce a few times before actually gets to the returner, but it didn’t,’’ Broncos coach P.J. Fleck said. “It was that kind of day for us.’’
Instead, a low line drive enabled Martin-Manley to catch the ball on the run, move quickly up the middle and head toward the right side of the field for his 63-yard score.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz credited assistant coach Chris White with helping position the Hawkeyes for success on special teams.
“We knew that they might rugby punt, too, but if you can field them cleanly, you’re going to have a chance because the ball doesn’t get up too high in the air,’’ Ferentz said. “... We had 10 other guys out there working hard, too, and I don’t know if we were 10-for-10, but we had a lot of guys working hard.’’
Cornerback B.J. Lowery said the big plays on special teams brought energy to the Hawkeye sideline.
“Things like that, they get you going,’’ Lowery said. “That was the case. Everybody was into then and it was a big day.’’