Iowa Football's Running Game Must Maintain Stability in 2016

By Jason Shawley

Iowa achieved an astonishing five-game regular season jump from 2014 to 2015, which translated to a 12-0 campaign, quite possibly saving Kirk Ferentz‘ job. The Hawkeyes stumbled down the stretch, dropping the Big Ten Championship Game against Michigan State to miss out on a playoff berth, and eventually their Rose Bowl clash with Stanford, but the season was an overall success.

Recent shaky seasons and moving pieces in the offseason put Ferentz in a position in which he needed to win now, and if he couldn’t, he may have payed the price. The head coach of 17 years decided to bump C.J. Beathard ahead of incumbent quarterback Jake Rudock on the depth chart, and as a result Rudock exercised his right as a graduate to transfer without penalty, becoming the starting quarterback at the University of Michigan.

Beathard had a great season for the Hawkeyes, completing over 61 percent for 2,809 yards and and 17 touchdowns. He threw only five interceptions. It looks really good and considering they improved by five games, you might think it was a drastic improvement on the previous signal caller. That really wasn’t the case. Most of Beathard’s stats were nearly identical to Ruckock’s numbers in the year prior. So what was the difference?

The Hawkeyes have had five offenses under Ferentz that have averaged 30 or more points per game. Those five units (2001, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2015) have boasted the five most productive rushing attacks under Ferentz. The 2015 group led by senior Jordan Canzeri averaged 181.7 rushing yards per game.

It’s incredibly unlikely that the Hawkeyes will be able to finish the regular season unbeaten in two straight seasons, and the loss of Canzeri doesn’t help. That said, the team did present a lot of depth at the position. LeShun Daniels Jr. and Akrum Wadley will have the most experience moving forward, while Derrick Mitchell Jr. also contributed. The three combined for just north of 1,300 yards in 2015, presenting a good deal of experience. Mitchell has a slighter resume, but his 6.5 yards per carry is the best among the top three returning rushers. It’s also worth noting that Canzeri missed two games and received just seven total carries in the Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl due to injury.

The Hawkeyes’ running game may not garner as much attention as the programs with a superstar at the position, but a platoon does have its benefits. Each can stay fresh and most importantly, if there’s an injury that sidelines one, there are other capable backs that can take his place and provide similar production. With Beathard returning, expect Iowa to contend for a Big Ten West title once again if the rushing attack maintains stability.

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