Goodwin Column: Hawkeyes should work to establish one guy as a featured running back

Five  Iowa running backs carried the ball in the Aug. 30 game. That’s not ideal if the Hawkeyes are going to have a solid, consistent rushing attack this season.

Iowa’s first rushing attempt of the season, predictably, went to Mark Weisman. It was a 2-yard gain.

Two plays later, LeShun Daniels Jr. ran in the season’s first touchdown from 13 yards out.

When the Hawkeyes got the ball back, Jordan Canzeri carried the ball for 2 yards. Jonathan Parker took a handoff on an end-around two plays later. Damon Bullock ran for 4 yards two plays after that.

For those keeping count, that’s five different running backs in nine plays. And while it speaks to the depth at the position, it doesn’t really lend itself to stability and sustained success in the running game.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz said the Aug. 30 game, a 31-23 victory over Northern Iowa, was an opportunity to feel out his different running backs. He noted that he and the rest of the coaching staff will continue to discuss how to best use all of them.

If history proves anything, Iowa should probably focus on handing the ball off to just one guy instead of five.

This is something somewhat new for Iowa, having a surplus of healthy, more-than-serviceable running backs. I get that. Ferentz does too, and he doesn’t like talking about it at all.

“You never feel too good about anything, especially right now,” he said on Aug. 26. “Certainly, compared with two years ago, we’re in a lot better shape there. But we’ve got to go out and play now.”

During the Aug. 30 game, none of Iowa’s running backs established themselves. Weisman led all Iowa’s running backs with 10 carries; Daniels was second with 8.

Canzeri finished with 7 carries, Bullock with 3, Parker with the 1. Collectively, the unit posted nice numbers, amassing 151 yards on 36 carries.

But that’s not conducive to what’s helped Iowa succeed in years past.

Featured running backs have been a staple in the program for years, especially during the Ferentz era. You can go down the list of 1,000-yard rushers — Shonn Greene in 2008, Fred Russell in 2002 and 2003, Marcus Coker in 2011, to name a few.

In Ferentz’s 15 seasons before 2014 (this year is his 16th), he has coached six running backs who ran for 1,000 yards in a single seasons. In those seasons Iowa is a combined 54-34, and in all but one 2000), the team reached a postseason bowl.

That’s not to say the team can’t find success without a 1,000-yard rusher. Five years ago, in 2009, Iowa went 11-2 and won the Orange Bowl; Adam Robinson ran for 834 yards.

Five years before that season, in 2004, the Hawkeyes went 10-2, won the Capital One Bowl, and Sam Brownlee led all of the team’s running backs with 227 rushing yards (granted, he did not see action in three games and was really thrown into the position after a lot of injuries).

And I get the idea of the myriad of running backs. If you divide the carries among four or five guys, all four or five of those guys will still be fresh come the fourth quarter — both in a game and in the season.

But take a look at the numbers from the Aug. 30 game. Weisman ran for 34 yards, Daniels  for 15, Canzeri for 22, Parker for 21, and Bullock for 10.

Those aren’t exactly eye-popping.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this will be just like five years ago and like five years before then, in which Iowa didn’t need a 1,000-yard rusher to have a great season.

But Iowa’s offense might be better off if it finds its main guy and feeds him majority of the carries — and, if I may make a suggestion, perhaps that main guy could be the one whom Ferentz raved about after the Aug. 30 game, unprompted.

“Probably the biggest difference from a year ago is LeShun Daniels, who I think has really improved a lot,” Ferentz said. “He’s entered into the contest a little bit.”

Follow @codygoodwin on Twitter for updates, news, and analysis about the Iowa football team.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply