By Tyler Devine
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Charlie Jones still has yet to catch a pass as an Iowa receiver, but the junior walk-on transfer from Buffalo is making his presence felt in other areas.
Jones had 143 all-purpose yards in Iowa’s 49-7 rout of Michigan State on Saturday, 54 of which came on a punt return touchdown with 1:57 left in the first half that extended Iowa’s lead to 28-0 at a time when the Iowa offense was struggling to get anything going after an early surge.
“I took that first step and saw the left side was wide open,” Jones said. “There was great blocking on the left, so I just went left with it.”
Jones, a native of Deerfield, Ill., also had 38 rushing yards, 27 of which came on a jet sweep that helped set up a touchdown on Iowa’s opening drive.
The 6-foot, 187-pound Jones called for a fair catch just once on Saturday and said that he takes pride in the inherent risk in returning punts.
But after leaving a school where he was established and on scholarship for a school where nothing was guaranteed, it’s obvious that Jones doesn’t mind taking a risk or two.
“I think on some of them I could fair catch it, but I take a little bit of a risk and try to make something out of nothing, and I think that might be the difference,” Jones said.
What Jones did on Saturday is particularly impressive considering Iowa rarely practices punt or kick returns because of injury risk, according to head coach Kirk Ferentz.
“I just feel really good with him back there fielding, good judgment, good ball skills,” Ferentz said. “And what he showed today I think was really what some of our guys, offensive guys especially thought, and we don’t practice punt returns a lot, we just don’t do that, or kick returns. I still go back to the ’80s seeing Quinn Early get his shoulder knocked out. I’ll never forget that, on a kickoff coverage in a scrimmage, so we just don’t do that, and to watch the way he’s performed three weeks now, it’s really great.
“He’s a pretty good player on offense, too, so you’ll see him keep working forward that way, as well.”
Ferentz and Jones both were asked after Saturday’s game if Jones’ play had earned him a scholarship.
And both gave similar answers. Maybe.
“We’ll do it when it’s appropriate,” Ferentz said. “I’m a big believer in earning things, I guess. That’s kind of how it’s always worked and it’s usually how the game works. But we’ve also got a pretty storied tradition of walk-ons and I think we’ve always been really fair with them. We’ll take care of that whenever it’s appropriate. He certainly made big steps today, that’s for sure. If his agent contacts me tomorrow we’ll talk about it and see where it all goes.”