The 2013 season has just come to an end but there are a few things running through my mind as I think about next season. The first thing we discussed was whether or not there will be a ‘thing’ at quarterback this spring, which you can read here. The next item we’ll discuss is the prospects at running back.
RUNNING BACK ISSUES? This might not be a popular opinion but I just don’t feel Mark Weisman is a bell cow Big Ten running back. He is a great guy to have in the stable and there are a lot of situations where he can be used successfully and in tandem with other backs who have different skill sets.
The bigger problem is less about Mark Weisman and more about two other things:
1) What wasn’t around him this year and
2) Greg Davis’ choices on how to use him
Iowa called a toss sweep to Weisman in the Outback Bowl. That’s just a fail waiting to happen, as were most of the outside running plays with Weisman this year against teams on Iowa’s schedule in October and November. He’s not a lateral runner, not in the least bit. He doesn’t possess the types of skills in which you build and offense around. Outside runs to the right side of the line of scrimmage were rarely successful.
These are not knocks on Mark Weisman…He can get the hard yards and also punish a defense when the offensive line has been leaning on them all day. But Iowa is going to need more versatility out of its running back in order to reach its peak potential next year, at least in my opinion. We saw some of that late in the year with Jordan Canzeri as he hits the hole much faster than Weisman and Canzeri’s yards per carry were better than Weisman’s over the final four games of the year. It’s just that Canzeri isn’t a bell cow back, either. Damon Bullock’s future is not at running back.
Enter LeShun Daniels, who should really grow this spring and summer and be ready to take any carries that went to Damon Bullock over the final half of this year. He’s big enough for Iowa’s power game and appears fast enough to get through the line quickly when the hole is there at the point of attack. Iowa also has talent coming in from the recruiting trails in record setting Markel Smith from St Louis.
I am NOT saying that Iowa’s backfield is a smoldering hole of nothing, as we’ve seen in past years after the effects of AIRBHG. That’s not the case and Iowa just showed it could win eight games with this group of running backs. They’re not chopped liver and Iowa’s schedule next year is so soft that this group could probably get to nine wins. They had some decent production this year relative to one of the most successful Ferentz-era rushing years:
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Iowa finished with 2,339 rushing yards, most in five years. The 2008 team rushed for 2,453.
— Matt Cozzi (@matt_cozzi) January 1, 2014
Only 2002 was better for a Ferentz-era team as it relates to rushing yards per game. That 2002 team also averaged just over 5-yards per attempt while the 2008 team averaged just shy of 4.8 yards per attempt. This year’s Iowa team, while having a good gross total, got there the really hard way as their yards per carry average was 4.20. The offensive line did a very good job this year and in most of the games the running backs first two yards came courtesy of the offensive line push. Iowa’s running game ranked 6th in the Big Ten in yards per carry and it simply lacks big plays aside from what Canzeri contributed.
-Iowa’s 18 rushing touchdowns were 10th in the B1G
-Iowa ranked 75th in the nation in yards per attempt
-Iowa was 9th in the B1G in rushing attempts of 10+yards for the 2nd year in a row
-Iowa was 10th in the B1G in rushing attempts of 20+yards and 30+yards
So while in aggregate this season’s rushing total looks ‘sexy’ next to that of 2008 the TYPE of production Iowa had in 2008 is greatly preferred. The threat of more explosive plays takes heat off of a quarterback and changes what the defense does and makes it easier to run. When Mark Weisman is in the game, even though he can be a load to bring down, the defense knows he is limited in some ways. Iowa’s tool box gets a bit smaller and the margin for error for the quarterback is removed. When Iowa’s offensive linemen show zone-scheme flow to the outside, opposing linebackers are flying to the outside with them because they do not fear Weisman’s cutback abilities given his challenges with moving laterally.
Weisman is a part of the stew and Canzeri should be, too. I’d wager that Daniels will be right there in the mix and Bullock is certainly capable to give everyone a breather here or there but I don’t think he’s one of Iowa’s three best rushing options (at a minimum).
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You can win games with a rotation…you can win games with multiple backs. There is more than one way to skin a cat, but some of the onus is on Greg Davis to tailor his play calling to the backs he has on the field and not just go ‘one size fits all’.
The Iowa football program needs to do all that it can do to find more explosive plays. Iowa’s defense during the Norm Parker era was often called bland because it kept running the same sets over and over and over. Nothing sexy and it rarely blitzed, because it was forcing the opposing team to make nine-plus play drives to score believing that over time it would win more battles than it loses.
When I looked at the Iowa offense this year I saw the same thing, just on the opposite side of the ball. Iowa’s lack of explosiveness in the running game and choosing to run it nearly 60-percent of the time meant it’s margin for error was razor thin and a great deal of pressure was placed on a very green quarterback.
I think the Hawkeyes may have a few horses in the stable next year that can take some heat off of the passing gmae and an offensive line that can once again open up some good holes. Weisman and Canzeri can be a part of the stew but I don’t think either player is THE answer at running back.