CHICAGO – Iowa’s running back situation during its incredible 12-win season in 2015 was a bit more tumultuous than it should’ve been thanks to the injury bug.
The presumptive starter, Jordan Canzeri, dealt with a slew of injuries during his final season and LeShaun Daniels was thrust into the spotlight frequently. Daniels did more than hold his own, rushing for 646 yards and eight touchdowns as the part-time starter.
Now Daniels will be expected to take a role as the lead back along with junior Akrum Wadley, who rushed for an impressive 496 yards and seven touchdowns on just 83 carries.
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz echoed his confidence in both players on Tuesday at his Big Ten Media Day session.
“We really feel good about both players,” Ferentz said. “I think Akrum took a real big step during the season last year. Still room for improvement and I’ll be saying that until he’s done. He’s got room for improvement, but he really loves football and he’s a tough-minded guy. I think his best football’s ahead of him.”
“I feel the same about LeShaun. LeShaun’s just such a tremendous young guy, so conscientious.”
The Hawkeyes will need the running game to spearhead its offense, but it might not be depended upon like it has been in years past. Iowa is fortunate to have quarterback C.J. Beathard back in the fold, and the Hawkeyes also return leading receiver Matt VandeBerg to an offense that could be a bit more predicated on the pass this season.
But with Ferentz, it always starts with pounding the rock and dominating the line of scrimmage. Running the ball effectively will first and foremost be Iowa’s recipe for another undefeated regular season. Canzeri might’ve been a star, but Iowa might have a pair of talented tailbacks carrying the load this season.
At least Ferentz thinks so.
“We’ll be a better team if both guys can really play a major role for us,” Ferentz said. “Last year we got in a situation where it was this guy, then that guy because of injuries and that type of thing. My hopes are that both guys can stay healthy all season long and really feed off each other. If we can mix in another couple guys in the mix that’d be great too, because we never have enough guys to run the football.”
Sometimes there’s nothing more dangerous in football than an extremely powerful backfield duo. If Iowa’s running backs stay healthy and build off of what was a pretty good year under difficult circumstances, they could propel the Hawkeyes to more glory and perhaps another shot at a Big Ten title.