IOWA CITY, Iowa - The foot in football will be at center stage Saturday at Rutgers.
Two good mates from Melbourne, Australia, both products of Australian Rules Football, will become rivals for Saturday's Big Ten opener.
Tory Taylor of Iowa and Adam Korsak of Rutgers are two of the best punters in the nation, and they’ll square off in a game that could well be determined by field position.
“You’ve got two punters that can really alter the game,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said.
Taylor came to Iowa thinking he’d never get a chance to try and outkick his pal on a Big Ten football field. But Korsak got an extra season of eligibility because of COVID.
“He’s one of my friends, so I wish all success to him,” Taylor said. “As long as we kick their butt on Saturday, that’s all that matters.”
Emphasis on kick. Rutgers is 3-0. Iowa is 2-1. Both teams have won a game in which the offense didn’t score a touchdown. The Hawkeyes are last in the Big Ten in total offense.Rutgers is 13th, and looking to snap a 17-game home Big Ten losing streak.
Despite Iowa’s uneven start, Taylor has been brilliant even though he’s quick to downplay his success. When it was mentioned that this would be a battle between two of the best punters in the college game, Taylor joked, “I appreciate that. Very nice. Thank you.”
But the facts are the facts. Taylor has punted 23 times this season, five more than anyone else in the league. His 48.26 average ranks third nationally. Eleven of those punts have gone for 50 yards or more. Thirteen of them have been downed inside the 20, and just five of them have been touchbacks.
Korsak has a streak of 136 punts without a touchback going back to 2019. A second-team Associated Press all-American last season, the senior has punted 12 times for a 42.08-yard average this season. He’s the second player in program history to be named a team captain three times.
“No touchbacks is something I wish I could emulate,” said Taylor, a junior. “I know he’s going to bring a lot of problems and issues for us. There are great punters in the Big Ten that we’re going to face, and he’s one of them.”
The last time Korsak faced Iowa it was also a duel of Aussie punters. Iowa’s Michael Sleep-Dalton punted six times in Iowa’s 30-0 victory at Kinnick Stadium, averaging 48.3 yards. But Korsak put on one of the greatest displays in stadium history.
“Just a tremendous football player,” Ferentz said.
He punted 10 times for a 47.6-yard average. Seven of his punts were downed inside the 20. Iowa started drives on its own 1-, 2-, 3-, 3-, 8-and 11-yardlines after Korsak punts..
“I think there’s a You Tube video out that calls it the greatest punting battle ever,” Taylor said.
Ferentz won’t go so far as calling Taylor the best punter he’s coached at Iowa,.
“I got to be here for two years of Reggie Roby,” Ferentz said of the late all-American. “In all fairness to Tory, Reggie grew up playing football, basketball, he was just a multisport athlete and a great, great human being.”
Taylor had never watched an American football game until he punted in last season’s opener against Indiana. He said he’s not the novice he once was.
“I’m starting to learn a lot more,” he said. “Just sitting in special teams meetings and things like that. You improve your knowledge of the game here every day.”
But don’t think he was a novice with his footwork when he arrived.. Playing Australian Rules Football helped him dramatically with his ability to place a football where he wants it.
“I feel like I’m being a little bit of a smartass when I say this, but it’s something I’ve been doing for years,” Taylor said. “Everyone kind of goes crazy when I put them inside the 5, but really it’s not that difficult of a punt for me. It comes back to playing Australian Rules (Football). That’s why there are so many guys over here doing what I’m doing.”
Taylor, who is also the holder on placekicks, said he got some great advice in the off-season from former Iowa long snapper Casey Kreiter, now with the New York Giants, that has made him a better punter.
“He said, “Don’t be bored of being boring,’ ” Taylor said. “That’s one thing that has really stuck with me. Being boring is good because it means you're doing your job. If you’re not doing your job, things aren’t going to be the greatest. I’m trying to polish a few things up like touchbacks, and trying to get a little more hang time on my punts. Moving forward, I’m trying to be more consistent.”
Touchbacks drive Taylor crazy.
“I don’t like kicking them in the end zone, just knowing I’m only a couple of yards off,” he said. “But overall, I’m really happy with my game this season.”
Both Taylor and Korsak are on the Ray Guy Watch List. Korsak was a finalist for the award in 2021 and a semifinalist in 2019.Guy was an eight-time Pro Bowl punter with the Oakland Raiders.
As for who will win the all-Aussie punting battle on Saturday, Taylor said he’s not worried about that.
“I’ll leave that up to you guys,” he told the assembled media earlier this week. “There’s a lot to improve on, but I’ve been really happy with what I’m doing.”