No. 10 Iowa's depth at running back coming in handy
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Iowa used to be so thin at running back that it used a fullback there for three years. That is not a problem anymore.
The emergence of sophomores Akrum Wadley and Derrick Mitchell, combined with last week's return by opening day starter LeShun Daniels, has left No. 10 Iowa (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) loaded at running back. The Hawkeyes can take their time with leading rusher Jordan Canzeri, who is expected back soon following an ankle sprain.
The Hawkeyes should have at least three backs ready Saturday when they face Indiana (4-4, 0-4) with a chance to match the best start in school history.
''We caught a break when LeShun came back. I thought LeShun looked the way we had hoped,'' coach Kirk Ferentz said. ''One thing about injuries. It forces you to develop depth.''
Daniels, Iowa's power option at 225 pounds, sprained his right ankle during a 31-17 win at Iowa State in mid-September. He tried to play through his injury, but Iowa finally sat Daniels for two weeks ahead of its bye week.
The rest helped Daniels, who had 60 yards on 13 carries last weekend in a 31-15 win over Maryland.
''It's nice to have him back. He's our biggest back, and he's also got speed as well. And he runs the ball hard and tough,'' quarterback C.J. Beathard said. ''We've been missing him.''
The absence of Canzeri - who has rushed for 698 yards and nine touchdowns to go with 17 receptions - paved the way for Wadley to show he had moved beyond the ball security issues that left him benched for most of 2015. Wadley had 204 yards rushing and four touchdowns in relief of Canzeri in a 40-10 win at Northwestern on Oct. 17.
He followed up with just 67 yards against Maryland, with Iowa determined to run on a defense determined to stop it.
Mitchell, a receiver converted to back in the offseason, was used on passing downs against the Terrapins and only registered one carry and a pair of receptions. Still, Mitchell is averaging 7.4 yards on 18 carries this season.
Iowa's run-first strategy, with nearly twice as many run plays called as passes in Big Ten play, is hardly a surprise. The Hawkeyes are winning the way they always have under Ferentz.
Iowa's most successful teams played great defense and controlled the clock with a physical line paving the way for the rush game. The Hawkeyes slid toward mediocrity in recent years partly because it didn't have the players needed to play that way.
But Iowa has rediscovered its winning ways behind its backs, a punishing line and a defense that has allowed just 122 points all season - one more point than top-ranked Ohio State.
''It's something for a long time we've taken pride in here, way before I got here. It's something that's always been a part of the identity of our offense,'' sophomore guard Sean Welsh said.
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