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Iowa Football Position Preview: Tyler Goodson Could Kick Start Running Game

March 23, 2020

Written by Rob Howe

Hawkeye Nation

IOWA CITY, Iowa – That Iowa has posted a 47-19 record during the last five seasons is more impressive when considering it’s done so largely without its bread and butter on offense – a consistent running game.

The Hawkeyes won 10 games in a season for just the ninth time in program history in 2019. They did so rushing for 137.6 yards per game, which ranked 97th among 130 FBS teams and 10th out of 14 Big Ten squads.

The struggles stretch beyond one season. A 9-4 Iowa outfit in ’18 finished 94th nationally in rushing with 148.4 yards per game. The three seasons before that, it ended up 96th (’17), 67th (’16) and 49th (’15). It illustrates that performance has trended in the wrong direction.

Again, those numbers make the overall win-loss results even more impressive. The Hawkeyes rely on play-action in their scheme. When running the ball on early downs produces long distances for first downs on second and third downs, defenses can tee off.

Iowa’s 25.8 points per game last season ranked 88th in the country. It rushed for 123 or fewer yards in seven of nine Big Ten contests, including one yard at Michigan.

The Hawkeyes loosened up defenses later in the season by becoming less predictable. They ran jet sweeps and reverses with receivers like Ihmir Smith-Marsette and Tyrone Tracy. They inserted true freshman Tyler Goodson as the feature back.

Goodson (5-10, 190*) became the first true freshman in program history to pace the team in rushing. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry in totaling 638 and notched a team-best five touchdowns on the ground.

The Georgia native’s speed and quickness stood out as he showed an ability to run outside, something Iowa lacked after Akrum Wadley graduated. Like Wadley, he hurt opponents in the passing game, catching 24 balls for 166 yards.

While Goodson proved he’s capable of boosting the rushing attack, even his increased playing time didn’t completely solve Iowa’s issues. He ran for 94 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries in an upset of previously unbeaten Minnesota on Nov. 16. The next week against Illinois, he was held to 38 yards on 21 carries.

That’s the type of fluctuation in running game that needs fixing. It puts way too much pressure on the defense and special teams. The offense must contribute more to the three phases of complementary football.

Against Minnesota, Iowa proved less predictable. Misdirection runs with Goodson and carries by receivers kept the Gophers off-balance.

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Then, the Hawkeyes returned to anticipated patterns. Illinois loaded up against inside and outside zone, shutting them down in their tracks.

The next two games, Iowa reopened the playbook. Nebraska didn’t know what hit it in the regular-season finale. Speedy USC looked unprepared in the Holiday Bowl. The Hawkeyes rushed 66 times for 340 yards five touchdowns. Three of those scores came from receivers. They now have placed things on film for which opponents must prepare.

Smith-Marsette and Tracy come back with Goodson. Receivers Brandon Smith and Nico Ragaini along with tight end Sam LaPorta stand out as proven playmakers for which defenses must account. Offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz can be creative.

Iowa also brings back another proven back in senior Mekhi Sargent (5-9, 212), who led the team with 745 ground yards in ’18 and then came back with 563 (4.7 YPC) last fall. He’s a solid No. 2 back capable of busting loose with big games.

Power back Toren Young decided to pass on his final year of eligibility and take his shot at professional football. He added 432 yards (5.3 YPC) as a change-of-pace option the last few seasons.

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Iowa doesn’t really have a big back in the stable right now. There is no one with the bulk of Young or LeShun Daniels. The talent extends beyond Goodson and Sargent, however.

Redshirt junior Ivory Kelly-Martin (5-10, 203) won the starting job coming out of August camp in ’18. Injuries have derailed his last two seasons.

Redshirt freshman Shadrick Byrd (5-10, 212) impressed the coaches after enrolling last January. He traveled to road games down the stretch of last season.

Incoming freshman Gavin Williams (6-0, 200) showed an ability to run between the tackles and get to the outside in helping West Des Moines (IA) Dowling Catholic win another state title in the fall. He enrolled in January.

Fellow newcomer Leshon Williams (5-10,205**) also displays versatility as a runner and good hands in the passing game. Redshirt sophomore Samson Evans (6-0, 210) is working to break through after changing positions multiple times since joining the program.

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*Heights and weight listed are from official Iowa roster posted on-line.
Height and weight from Rivals profile.

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