MINNEAPOLIS — After 54 minutes of tight running lanes, a heavy dose of hard hits and near breakaway runs, Akrum Wadley finally found what he was after.
Only one defender stood between the Iowa running back and the end zone. Wadley wasn’t going to waste the opportunity so he sprinted 54 yards for the game-winning touchdown in a 14-7 victory over Minnesota on Saturday.
This was more than the biggest play in a rivalry game. It was the embodiment of how the Hawkeyes need to play.
They stuck with the run and the biggest win of the season followed suit.
“We just had to keep on just pounding and pounding it,” Iowa center James Daniels said. “Soon after you pound the ball so many times, one run is going to break. That happened.”
Run the football. It’s the first commandment of Iowa football. It’s been the heart and soul of the offense since Kirk Ferentz took over the program 18 years ago.
It’s the way Iowa will find success with wide receiver Matt VandeBerg out. It’s not what the Hawkeyes did last week.
But it’s what happened against the Golden Gophers. The big runs weren’t there. The three- and four-yard ones were.
It wasn’t always pretty in a game where offense seemed optional for long stretches, but the Hawkeyes saw a masterpiece coming.
“We were running inside zones and slants, and we were one block away from breaking those runs,” Iowa right tackle Cole Croston said. “We were talking about that on the sideline and we said that we were going to keep chipping away at it.”
Would it ever come? The run success didn’t show up last week. Or in the North Dakota State loss.
It’s part of the reason, along with the pass protection problems, Iowa rotated its offensive linemen like they were truck tires. Boone Myers moved to left tackle. Croston shifted from left to right tackle. Ike Boettger became the left guard.
Something needed to change. It seemed like nothing did early. The first five runs went for five yards.
The Hawkeyes, though, were just getting warmed up. They’d finish the first half with 70 rushing yards. Wadley would go for 107 yards. Running back LeShun Daniels would add 66.
Wadley thought the offensive line played angry. James Daniels used the word violent. Croston said it was aggressiveness.
No matter the description, something was building up front.
“Sooner or later they slip up and it will be a long one,” Wadley said. “It was either going to be me or LeShun that would hit it and I was the one that got it.”
Wadley took a hand off on the left side. Right guard Sean Welsh pulled and ran through the defensive tackle. One Minnesota defender couldn’t grab Wadley as he accelerated through the hole. He stutter-stepped past safety Jacob Huff and strutted his way into the end zone with 5 minutes, 28 seconds left.
It meant bacon for everyone. Floyd of Rosedale, the bronze pig trophy awarded to the rivalry game winner, would be staying in Iowa City.
“We needed this one,” Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard said. “We needed to get back on a winning streak and realize what it feels like to win and enjoy these.”
Iowa certainly did. It was a long seven days after losing to Northwestern.
After grabbing the trophy, the Hawkeyes ran to their fans. Some jumped into the crowd. Others ran around the field giving high-fives. They all celebrated.
“We are definitely going to enjoy this one,” Wadley said.
It wasn’t perfect. The offense failed to capitalize on too many scoring opportunities, but it found its most important component.
“They were coming hard the entire game, even in the fourth quarter or first quarter,” Daniels said. They were coming hard the entire game. They didn’t quit. We just had to play.”
Iowa needed to stick with the run. Now, it needs to stick with the game plan going forward.