Coker gives Hawkeyes options


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Following Marcus Coker's first career game against Ball State on Sept. 25, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz questioned whether his true freshman running back was ready for Big Ten play.

Coker didn't play the next three games, and starter Adam Robinson rambled for 437 total yards. If there was any doubt who Iowa's featured back was in the wake of Jewel Hampton's injury, Ferentz's decision to solely play Robinson in the teeth of the team's Big Ten schedule said it all.

But then Robinson suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter of Iowa's 37-6 win over Michigan State on Oct. 30, sidelining him for the Hawkeyes' contest against Indiana.

Enter Coker.

The true freshman got his first career start on Nov. 6 against the Hoosiers, and he piled up 129 rushing yards.

"It was really incredible to watch," offensive lineman Julian Vandervelde said. "He never really said anything in the huddle. He'd get in, he'd get the play, [and] he'd run as hard as he could. And man, that's pretty hard."

Ferentz said Robinson would be back at practice Tuesday. The sophomore will likely be the starter Saturday when the No. 13 Hawkeyes (7-2, 4-1) travel to Northwestern (6-3, 2-3). But that's not to say Coker won't play a larger role in Iowa's offense in the team's final three conference games.

Much of the reason Ferentz was originally apprehensive about Coker playing in Big Ten play can be traced back to the freshman missing nearly all of fall camp with a shoulder injury. The head coach indicated on Nov. 6 that Coker is at a point where playing time will become a norm.

"This is a big step for him, and that's a good thing for us," Ferentz said.

The 12-year head coach joked after the Indiana game that the "silver lining" in Robinson's injury was that it gave the sophomore a second bye week. In the three games after Iowa's actual bye week, Robinson averaged more than 27 touches per game.

Robinson had a career-high 35 touches in the Oct. 16 contest at Michigan.

The Hawkeyes will face two of the Big Ten's better run defenses in the season's final three games. On Saturday, Iowa meets conference's No. 6 rush defense, Northwestern (141 yards per game). The Hawkeyes' matchup with Ohio State (No. 1 with 84 yards per game) is Nov. 20.

Coker's emergence will only help diversify Iowa's running game as the season goes on.

"He did a great job," Stanzi said. "As a freshman, stepping in, new role for him, A-Rob's not there. And A-Rob's a leader on this offense. Believe that for sure. … [Coker] is a big guy, he runs very hard. It's just great to see him have a good game."

Meyer named Player of the Week

Iowa kicker Michael Meyer earned Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his four-field goal performance against Indiana on Nov. 6. The true freshman made kicks of 23, 27, 27, and 42 yards. He also missed a 22-yarder.

Meyer's 12 points kept the Hawkeyes in the game until quarterback Ricky Stanzi connected with wide receiver Marvin McNutt late in the fourth quarter for the game-winning touchdown.

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