WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Akrum Wadley’s personality sticks out like a green peppermint in a sea of red candy canes.
The Iowa junior running back has a different flavor to him, and always brings what young people call swag. Within one sentence of his husky voice, older folks could just imagine him carrying on a conversation with Fred Sanford and everybody leaving in stitches.
Wadley and fellow running back LeShun Daniels put Purdue in a figurative sinkhole Saturday, combining for 326 of Iowa’s 365 rushing yards in a 49-35 win at Ross-Ade Stadium. Wadley, who ran for 170 on 14 carries, paid homage to his offensive line with a remark that surely would make his coaches wince. But like how chocolate makes chili pop, Wadley added spice to his heavy-duty description to their dominance.
“We did what Iowa’s known for, which is bully football,” Wadley said. “They went out there and pushed a few jokers around and definitely lightened the load up for me and LeShun Daniels.”
You almost can imagine coach Kirk Ferentz grabbing on to his heart and pointing toward the sky. The Hawkeyes are known for cliches, and Wadley’s unpredictability in interviews makes him uncharacteristic. But you could say the same for his style of play.
Wadley averaged 12.1 yards per carry against the Boilermakers. In concert with seven nearly perfect blocks, Wadley sizzled through the Purdue defense on a 75-yard touchdown run. He lined up to the left of quarterback C.J. Beathard in the shotgun formation with two receivers to their left, a wide receiver to their right and a tight end just off the line of scrimmage also to their right.
At the snap, Iowa’s offensive line allowed nose guard Eddy Wilson to run free toward Beathard. Iowa tight end Peter Pekar pulled to his left and buried Wilson two steps before Beathard handed off. Wadley then scampered through the first level. Wide receiver Jay Scheel cracked down on strong safety Leroy Clark and held his block long enough for Wadley to blaze through Clark’s tackle attempt.
As Wadley approached Purdue’s south end zone — where the literal sinkhole recently was repaired — he looked at the scoreboard video and saw cornerback Da’Wan Hunte in pursuit. Wadley tucked the ball high and tight as he strolled into the end zone. That’s something he learned after he suffered through benchings early in his career for fumbling issues.
“It’s embarrassing when you drop that ball,” Wadley said. “You never know when you’re going to get back in the game and you let your team down, especially with the line blocking how they blocked.”
The run itself is a rarity for Iowa, which almost exclusively passes from the shotgun. Ferentz joked, “Believe it or not we do game plan a little bit …” when asked about the run.
“We’re going to try to mix that stuff in and then the question is when can you call them, when is a good time?” Ferentz said. “Akrum certainly did a great job with the run finish and that’s a play where Jay Scheel really made a nice block, gave him a chance to make it a big play instead of just a nice gain.”
ICYMI: Akrum Wadley is, like, really good at doing this for @HawkeyeFootball.
— Iowa On BTN (@IowaOnBTN) October 15, 2016
Wadley was as much of a co-star aboard the Hawkeye freight train Saturday as he was the featured performer. Daniels took the brunt of the physical runs with 24 carries for 156 yards. He had his own breakout run of 67 yards but was caught before he reached the end zone. It was the first time since 2008 that a pair of Iowa running backs each ran for 100 yards in the same game.
The running backs are as different personality-wise as they are toting the football. Daniels is a team captain, an obvious leader and at 225 pounds, he’s a bull with a football in his arms. Wadley might not become a team captain but he’s silky smooth and electric. Iowa lists him at 191 pounds but as Ferentz said, “When he gets over (190) I’m going to give him a hug and smile and say really nice things about him.”
Their outputs complement one another as much as any tandem in recent Iowa history. Through seven games, Daniels has 595 yards; Wadley has 586. They trade plays within the same possession and there’s no selfishness between them. But they do look at the statistics and they do discuss them after the game.
“The day after the game we always talk about what we did and stuff like that,” Daniels said. “It’s a little competitive type of game.”
“We just try to go out there and ball,” Wadley said. “At the beginning of the season, all we could talk about it is both of us rushing for at least 100 yards apiece … so we’re both proud of each other.”
The numbers were impressive. The 365-yard rushing total was Iowa’s most since the 2002 regular-season finale at Minnesota. It was the second-highest output of the Ferentz era. It also indicates the running game is starting to hit its stride, which puts Iowa among the favorites in the West Division race. It’s also not a stretch to think both Wadley and Daniels could top 1,000 yards at season’s end.
“That’s the goal,” Wadley said. “If we keep rushing the ball and with our line keep doing what they doing, it’s definitely possible.”
Thankfully, Wadley’s not shy about sharing his thoughts. His moves on the football field seem to mirror his stream of consciousness off it.