East Lansing, Mich. — The Big Ten is known for throwing defensive grind-it-outs at football teams week after week, handing out more merit badges for open-field tackles than 300-yard passers.
Add in Midwestern fall days like Saturday at Spartan Stadium — with clam-chowder skies, fits of rain and treacherous footing — and scoring can become as rare and valuable as gold leaf.
Points pile up like a pinball machine in the Big 12, Pac-12, Mountain West, Western Athletic and beyond. In the Big Ten, though, teams need a robot with a leg.
Teams need someone like Iowa’s Mike Meyer.
The junior has become the Hawkeyes’ most consistent weapon — and it was never more clear or necessary than during a 19-16, double-overtime, every-point-counts win against Michigan State.
“Whenever our team, the field-goal team, takes the field, it’s worth points,” said a somewhat stoic Meyer, the junior robot, after tying a career high with four field goals — including a soggy, 42-yarder in the second overtime to provide the winning margin.
“So I definitely can’t leave any points out on the field.”
In 2012, Meyer rarely has. Or more precisely — just once, a 40-yarder in the second quarter of the season opener against Northern Illinois that started a run of 13 straight makes.
Meyer came into the game with the most field goals per game in the conference, and upped his percentage from 90.9 to 93.9 on a perfect day in far-from-perfect conditions.
In college football’s pinball machine conferences, field goals are nice little corners of the game, the dessert tacked onto a gluttonous meal. In the Big Ten, however, field goals equal survival — especially and particularly on a bone-soaker like Saturday.
Ask Iowa quarterback James Vandenberg , who said Meyer has reached another level of mental toughness as a junior, citing his focus on the golf course — where the QB said the kicker owns a 10 handicap.
“He’s been a completely different player this year. He’s really matured,” Vandenerg said. “He’s just a guy we have so much faith in.”
“It’s been exponential,” he continued. “He’s a guy where we’re fine with him taking that last kick.”
Ask defensive back Micah Hyde, who became animated when he explained the energy teammates expend to try and scramble Meyer’s mental eggs in practice.
“The defense, we yell junk at him and try to distract him,” Hyde said. “We yell his name and jump up and down — but he stays focused.
“That’s Mike Meyer. He does it every day in practice. I can’t remember the last time I saw him miss in practice.”
For his part, Meyer said the jump from solid Big Ten kicker to exceptional foot-on-ball work came via a bit of advice from former Iowa all-American Nate Kaeding. Kaeding — one of the most accurate legs in NFL history with the San Diego Chargers — told Meyer to treat every kick like the Super Bowl was on the line.
“The beauty of Nate Kaeding was his mental approach, and still is. Mike’s developing that,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz, on the day when Meyers leg and brain aided the 100th win of his Hawkeye career.
“He was always good, but he’s gotten even better.”
Meyer moved into ninth on Iowa’s all-time scoring list, and the 13 in a row inches him closer to the record run of 22 without a miss by Kaeding in 2001.
Ferentz expressed thanks when a reporter asked about Meyer after Saturday’s win, since the guys with the biggest paychecks love to talk about kickers who deflate drama and deliver on moments that can grind ulcers into the stomachs of coaches and fans alike.
Vandenberg and Iowa’s toe-stubbed passing game, too, likely dodged postgame pressure because of Meyer’s quiet, weather-be-damned consistency.
On a day when the weather delivered a backdrop only meteorologists and winning coaches can appreciate, Iowa needed sure points. On a day when the offense delivered too many four-yard passes on 3rd-and-10, Iowa needed scoreboard traction.
On a day when Michigan State tailback Le’Veon Bell threatened at times to send the visiting team back-pedaling to the Ann Arbor city limits, Iowa needed Mike Meyer.
“I have to be ready, whenever they call my name,” Meyer said.
In a season that started 2-2 — including a galling 32-31 loss to now 2-4 Central Michigan — consistency grew into the biggest question mark.
Meyer? He kicks question marks to the curb.
Bryce Miller can be reached at (515) 284-8288 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @Bryce_A_Miller
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football