Iowa's rushing game shows life as three players post season-high totals
Nothing was going to stop Iowa’s rushing attack today. Not Purdue’s defense, not a giant sinkhole in Ross-Ade Stadium, nothing.
For really the first time this season, the Hawkeyes showed signs of life on the ground. A team that ranked 13th in the B1G in average rushing yards per game pummeled the Boilermakers defense into submission, totaling 365 yards in a 49-35 win.
This was going to be the match-up to watch heading into the game. Iowa’s continued struggle to run the football against Purdue’s inability to slow down ball-carriers. It boiled down to which team could overcome its biggest deficiency.
Advantage, Iowa. Big time.
Three players recorded their highest rushing totals of the season. Akrum Wadley led the way with 170 yards, followed by LeShun Daniels Jr. who had 156 yards. Receiver Jerminic Smith, who had 10 rushing yards for the year, finished the day with 45 yards – on one play.
For the day, the Hawkeyes averaged 8.3 yards per carry, their highest average on the year.
Prior to Saturday’s game against Purdue, Iowa’s best ground performance came against Miami (OH), ending the day with 212 yards. It had 269 in the first half.
Rushing for major yardage may not warrant much attention against a dreadful Purdue defense that’s given up nearly 1,100 yards and 11 TDs on the ground in the last three games. Not to mention, the Boilermakers were without their top two defenders, Jake Replogle and Ja’Whaun Bentley. But this was the type of showing Kirk Ferentz needed from his team.
Iowa’s offensive line has been inconsistent at times. Defenses have been able to stop guys in the backfield frequently. Running backs have had inconsistent performances. None of that was an issue in West Lafayette.
Aside from the first game of the season, Wadley and Daniels haven’t provided that one-two punch that we expected to see entering the season. Instead, Ferentz has tended to favor one of the backs on a game-by-game basis, sticking with the guy who’s been hot throughout a particular game. Against the Boilermakers, we saw what this backfield combination can do.
They each pulled off a big run, too. Wadley had a 75-yard TD run late in the second quarter. Daniels broke off a 67-yard run later in the second half.
Saturday’s dominant performance on the ground comes at an important time for the Hawkeyes. It could be a confidence booster as they enter the toughest portion of the season.
Iowa will play No. 8 Wisconsin, travel to Penn State and host No.4 Michigan for its next three games. Entering week 7, the Badgers own the B1G’s top rush defense while the Wolverines rank third. The Nittany Lions have struggled to stop the run this season, but they may be turning a corner after wins over Minnesota and Maryland.
Running over Purdue’s defense is hardly a proving ground. It could be, however, a stepping stone towards a more relevant rushing attack. If the Hawkeyes want to have a chance in their next three games, they need some carry-over from the 350-plus yard performance it had on Saturday.
Wadley and Daniels need to be an effective combination. Riding the hot hand isn’t going to work against some of the conference’s top defense. The scheme that netted just 34 yards against North Dakota State and 79 yards against Northwestern in a pair of losses can’t resurface in the next four weeks. Not in order to stay alive in the B1G West race.
Iowa had it’s best rushing performance of the year. Really, for the first time all season, we saw what one of the top backfield combinations in the conference has the capability of doing.
Now it needs to hold on to some of that magic for the rest of the season.
None of Iowa’s remaining opponents are quite as bad at defending the run as Purdue.