Full-service Akrum Wadley ignites Iowa running game
IOWA CITY, Iowa — Akrum Wadley has plenty of wiggle, sometimes a little too much for the Iowa coaching staff. But Wadley’s sizzle, they’ll take that every time.
On his first touchdown in a 45-21 win against Miami of Ohio on Saturday, Wadley cruised untouched on an 11-yard toss sweep to the short side of the field. As he crossed the 5-yard line, Wadley started high-stepping and nearly was hit at the goal line, which brought a swift rebuke from offensive line coach Brian Ferentz.
“(Wide receiver) Jerminic Smith had that corner sealed so I got a little cute, I got that high step going,” Wadley said. “Coach Brian Ferentz told me don’t do that anymore. I don’t think he was really feeling that.
“As soon I came off the sideline. He was like, ‘Good run, but we don’t need that. Act like you’ve been there.'”
Wadley was there seven times last year and twice on Saturday. He ran for 121 yards on 12 carries and formed a devastating one-two punch with LeShun Daniels that combined for 204 yards on 22 attempts and four scores. For Iowa’s full-service offense to keep pace with the Big Ten’s elite, Wadley is a spark plug.
Since arriving on campus three years ago, Wadley has gained 23 pounds of muscle. He’s always had the elusiveness but a pair of fumbles in consecutive 2014 games put him on the shelf. He dumped another one early in 2015, so he was in Kirk Ferentz’s dog house. Only when Wadley was pressed into service because of two injuries was he utilized. Then he rushed for 204 yards and four touchdowns against Northwestern without a fumble.
This year, Wadley and Daniels are Iowa’s lightning-thunder combination. A bigger, stronger Wadley helps the Hawkeyes avoid showing tendency, which makes quarterback C.J. Beathard even more effective. Wadley still can run around end, which he did for both touchdowns. But more impressive was a 38-yard run in the fourth quarter where he used all of his abilities, including those acquired in the weight room.
Wadley took a handoff in the backfield and was met behind the line of scrimmage by Miami linebacker Brad Koenig. As Wadley juked to his left, Koenig pulled off his right shoe. Wadley looked outside, then took one cut inside and found a hole. Wadley raced past three defenders until he was caught at the Miami 4-yard line.
That play showed everything that Iowa wanted from Wadley: toughness, tenacity, a willingness to cut back inside and maturity.
“I knew whoever came close I was going to get down,” Wadley said. “I can’t afford an ankle injury.”
“One thing young runners tend to do is try to bounce everything or get outside,” Kirk Ferentz said. “A lot of times you can get away with that in high school. It’s a little tougher here because guys close faster. But I really think he’s learned how to play better and certainly did a good job with the ball security today, too, which is good.”
Wadley could have scored a third touchdown, but he was late getting on the field. Daniels took a sweep untouched for a 43-yard touchdown.
“I was supposed to go in on that play but I went in late, so they brought me back out,” Wadley said. “LeShun, he’s a monster. He took that to the crib.”
Iowa’s running game produced 35 touchdowns last year, second-most to Ohio State’s 39 in the Big Ten. After Saturday, the Hawkeyes have five. A bigger, stronger, more efficient Wadley makes Iowa more unpredictable and dangerous in the Hawkeyes’ quest for a Big Ten West Division repeat.