2011 hasn’t been so kind to the running backs for the Iowa Hawkeyes. From a rain soaked game on September 3 to a come from behind win over Pittsburgh on September 17, it hasn’t been pretty. What’s worse is this was the one position Hawkeye fans thought they could rely upon. What’s new! Marcus Coker’s big game vs. Missouri in the 2010 Insight Bowl left Hawkeye fans feeling good about their backfield entering 2011. Now they’re not so sure.
Coker had the worst start possible. On his first carry in 2011 vs. Tennessee Tech, he fumbled. Granted it was raining, and pretty heavily might I add, but is that a good excuse? Freshman Mika’il McCall spelled the sophomore and took off. He used his 9 carries to gain 61 yards including a 22 yard run to the outside. The Dolton, IL product began to win over Hawkeye fans in his first 2 drives before a Tennessee Tech tackler broke his right ankle. Back to receiving backup applications. Anyone who wanted to try out for the #2 running back position was welcome, and still is. DeAndre Johnson, Jason White, and Jordan Canzeri have all seen limited carries behind Coker.
Marcus Coker has had a shaky season to say the least. He’s had 2 fairly bad performances and 2 great ones. The Tennessee Tech game really stands out. Iowa planned to run the ball, especially with the amount or water on the field from all the rain. Coker only ran for 11 times for 41 yards, but it was the fumbles that were a concern. After fumbling on his opening carry, he fumbled in the next drive. Fortunately for him it was recovered by left tackle Riley Reiff.
Pittsburgh’s blitzing defense did a good job containing Coker. Iowa gave him the ball 25 times and he couldn’t eclipse the 100 yard mark. It wasn’t all bad, however. Coker was all Iowa had on offense for much of the Iowa State game. He ran for 140 yards on 35 carries while scoring twice. Those type of numbers prove he can handle a heavy workload. When Louisiana-Monroe came to town, much was expected for Iowa’s running game, especially since the Warhawks ran an unconventional 3-3-5 defense.
His 6.3 yards per carry average on 18 carries is exactly what fans expected to see. Coker showed good patience in the holes and his ability to break tackles on Saturday, something that reminds Hawkeye fans of the 2010 Insight Bowl. His 1,500+ yard, 15 touchdown expectations may have been a little high for Coker when the season started, but with the offensive line in front of him, it wasn’t out of the picture. Consistency is what you need to look for when looking at Coker. Now that Iowa may be passing the ball more than usual, Coker’s touched will be even more under the microscope. Kirk Ferentz and Ken O’Keefe would love to go back to their philosophy of running the ball 35 times a game. There are 2 problems with that. First, Coker has to prove he can handle a consistent workload and put up numbers, and second, he needs a backup. Canzeri showed flashes of what he can do vs. ULM, and it seems he may have the upper hand in the battle to backup Coker.
Grade – C
Consistency is the main thing here. Coker has had his times to shine, but he’s also had the bad times. His performance vs. Tennessee Tech is still questionable, and he never got much going vs. Pittsburgh. Throw in the fact that McCall got hurt and the Hawkeyes have no true #2 behind Coker, and this unit has been very average as of late. The bye week may help in establishing a running mate with Coker, but until you see a consistent product on Saturday’s, average is what they’ll be.