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Special teams not so special for No. 18 Iowa in loss to Arizona

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz had been worried about his special teams since fall camp.

Against Arizona, it didn't take long to see why.

The Hawkeyes opened Saturday night's 34-27 loss by allowing a quick touchdown after a blocked punt deep in their own territory, then gave up another on a kickoff return in the second quarter.

No. 18 Iowa (2-1) made a valiant comeback effort against the Wildcats and were poised to take the lead in the fourth quarter after Broderick Binns' interception return for a score. But kicker Trent Mossbrucker's extra-point try was blocked, and Arizona responded with the winning touchdown.

The Hawkeyes fell from ninth to 18th in the polls after the loss, which can be blamed in large part on Iowa's not-so-special teams.

Ferentz said Tuesday that the coaching staff is mulling major changes in time for Saturday's non-conference finale against Ball State (1-2).

"Two things have to happen. Either we have to mix in some veteran guys that have done it already, and that's one option. Or the second thing is, some other guys have step up and grow up a little bit." Ferentz said. "The opportunity is there for guys right now, and that's what we need. We need somebody to take a little ownership, jump in there and go."

Iowa's issues began in the opener, but few noticed as the Hawkeyes rolled to a 2-0 start.

Eastern Illinois surprised the Hawkeyes with a fake punt from their own 20 and rumbled 36 yards en route to their only touchdown. Iowa also struggled covering kickoffs against Iowa State, though it didn't matter much as the Hawkeyes cruised to a 35-7 win.

But Ferentz dubbed the performance of Iowa's coverage units against Cyclones "pathetic" and said that if it happened again in Arizona, they'd be down 28 at halftime.

Try 20.

Iowa's Ryan Donohue, one of the nation's top punters, never had a chance as David Roberts blew past the Hawkeyes line to block the punt and set up Arizona's first score. Iowa later pulled within 14-7, but Travis Cobb ran 100 yards on the subsequent kickoff to give Arizona a 21-7 lead.

Iowa ranks 115th out of 120 FBS teams in allowing 30.9 yards per kickoff return, even though freshman kickoff specialist Michael Meyer has had six touchbacks in 17 tries.

"We've just got to either change our mindset or change some personnel, and maybe a combination of both," Ferentz said. "We'll look at everything this week and try to get it straightened out. I said that a week ago and it went from bad to worse, so we'll look to change our approach."

Iowa's rally to tie the game — which came in part because of a fumble recovery by Shaun Prater on punt coverage — was a positive. But special teams miscues put the Hawkeyes in a hole that proved too deep to dig out of.

The Hawkeyes certainly have other issues with Big Ten play starting in two weeks, such as the somewhat spotty play of the offensive line at Arizona and depth at running back now that Jewel Hampton will likely miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.

But special teams essentially cost the Hawkeyes 15 points in a seven-point loss last week, and that's the most glaring problem in need of a fix.

"I'm optimistic it's going to happen. I think it will happen," Ferentz said of improved special teams play. "Hopefully sooner than later."