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Bullock emerges as No. 2 running back

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | SEPTEMBER 22, 2011 7:20 AM

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Damon Bullock scored a touchdown on his first career carry. At least that's the way Kirk Ferentz saw it.

Late in the third quarter on Sept. 17 against Pittsburgh, Bullock took a handoff on the 5-yard line and burst up the middle. He appeared to cross the goal line, but officials instead marked him down at the 1.

Ferentz said Tuesday that he expects the true freshman to begin seeing more game action. And even though James Vandenberg scored on a quarterback sneak shortly after Bullock's run and Iowa came back to win the game, the Hawkeye head coach couldn't resist taking a jab at the referees' call.

"I think [he'll play more]," Ferentz said with a grin. "Especially after he got that touchdown."

In Iowa's first three games, starting running back Marcus Coker has averaged 23 carries per game, including 35 against Iowa State on Sept. 10. If you include receptions, Coker is averaging 26 touches per game this year and 32.5 touches in the past two.

During Shonn Greene's record-setting 2008 season, the former Hawkeye and current New York Jet back averaged 24 touches per game.

Coker's hard-nosed running style could make it difficult for him to withstand that much punishment over a full season. The sophomore — who Ferentz said missed significant time during camp and is just now "getting close" to 100 percent — insists he can handle that workload, but he admitted after the game against Iowa State it does take a toll.

"Everything is sore," Coker said on Sept. 13.

Vandenberg said it's important for the Iowa offense to find a second running back to take some of the load off Coker. Ferentz said that will be Bullock. Jason White remains listed as the No. 2 back on the team's depth chart, but Bullock has been impressive enough in practice to leapfrog both White and De'Andre Johnson.

"In August, we would do a lot of first team against first team, and he just looked like he belonged out there," Ferentz said. "Sometimes, first-year guys take a long time to get there. But he looked like he was comfortable and learning quickly and doing a good job, so he's the furthest along of those guys."

Bullock spent some of fall camp playing wide receiver, and he lined up in that position in Iowa's season-opener against Tennessee Tech. That ability and versatility could make him a valuable pass-catcher out of the backfield, Vandenberg said.

"He's done a really good job," the first-year starting quarterback said. "Very athletic guy. He catches the ball great … It's all going to be on how quick he can learn."

Bullock appeared on college radars late in his prep career, when he ran for more than 1,600 yards and 22 touchdowns as a high-school senior. The Mansfield, Texas, native missed almost all of his junior season with a broken collarbone. Ferentz said many programs might have been finished recruiting Bullock's class by the time he had proven himself.

That left him available to become the 21st of Iowa's 22 commitments, and the third running back to sign with the Hawkeyes.

"He had been injured his junior year, but that doesn't explain it to me," Ferentz said of Bullock's late availability. "I don't know. And quite frankly, he's surprised us in a pleasant way, too."


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