Banged up No. 7 Iowa turns to freshman RB Wegher
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP)Last October, Brandon Wegher was starring for Bishop Heelan High in Sioux City, Iowa, and dreaming of leading the Crusaders to the state title game.
On Saturday, he'll be the starting tailback for No. 7 Iowa (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten), which still has dreams of playing in the BCS national title game in Pasadena, Calif.
No pressure, kid.
Wegher, who split carries with fellow freshman Adam Robinson for most of the season, is now Iowa's No. 1 back. Robinson sprained his ankle in last week's win at Michigan State and will likely be sidelined for at least the rest of the regular season, leaving Wegher to carry the load.
Asked if Wegher was ready for the 20 to 25 carries he might get starting with Saturday's game against Indiana (4-4, 1-3), Ferentz tried his hand at gallows humor.
"We'll find out. He's the next guy in," Ferentz said.
And perhaps, the last guy in.
Wegher has rushed for 321 yards and three touchdowns this season and is the only running back with more than 10 carries left for the Hawkeyes, who've reeled off the best start in school history despite significant turmoil in the backfield.
The woes started in January, when Shonn Greene announced his intentions to enter the NFL Draft just moments after leading the Hawkeyes to a win over South Carolina in the Outback Bowl.
It was a big blow, but the thinking was that the Hawkeyes would be OK without him. They returned a standout offensive line and promising sophomore back Jewel Hampton, who rushed for 463 yards and seven touchdowns spelling Greene in 2008.
Hampton never made it to this year's opener, felled by a knee injury that sidelined him for the season. He was joined on the sidelines by redshirt freshman Jeff Brinson, who hasn't played all season and likely won't because of an undisclosed injury.
Iowa turned to unheralded junior Paki O'Meara for the season opener, but that lasted about a half. O'Meara was ineffective and has rarely played since.
The Hawkeyes eventually settled on Robinson and Wegher. Though neither was spectacular, Robinson and Wegher solidified Iowa's backfield and gave the Hawkeyes just enough pop in the run game to keep defenses honest.
Robinson slowly emerged as Iowa's No. 1 back, with career highs of 27 carries and 109 yards against Michigan State. His injury leaves the backfield as just Wegher, O'Meara and freshman Brad Rogers, whom the Iowa coaching staff had planned to redshirt.
"We are running out of bodies. In the backfield it's not a real crowded room right now," Ferentz said.
Though Iowa isn't sure how Wegher will perform in the top spot, they've been excited about his potential even before he set foot on campus.
Wegher was one of the Hawkeyes' most ballyhooed recruits in recent memory, having rushed for 3,238 yards and 54 touchdowns in his senior year of high school.
Though he wasn't expected to play right away, he rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown in his backfield debut against Iowa State. He's been up and down ever since, with just 30 yards on six attempts against the Spartans.
But Ferentz has said all year that Iowa's youngsters have played a major role in the winning streak and he believes Wegher can continue that trend.
"I'm really impressed with him and based on the limited exposure we have had so far, my guess is he'll rise to the challenge," Ferentz said. "He's that kind of football player. Very tough-minded."