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Coker returning to 2010 form

BY JORDAN GARRETSON | SEPTEMBER 28, 2011 7:20 AM

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Marcus Coker appears to be finding a rhythm.

Iowa's sophomore tailback is averaging 4.85 yards per carry in his last two games. He busted a season-long run of 26 yards against Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 24.

It's taken a while, especially considering sky-high outside expectations spurred by his record-breaking performance in the 2010 Insight Bowl. Through Iowa's first two games, Coker bore little resemblance to the true freshman that pulverized the Missouri defense in December. He needed 46 carries to tally a total of 181 yards against Tennessee Tech and Iowa State, or 3.93 yards per carry. More troubling were his three fumbles, including two in his first four carries against Tennessee Tech.

But for the second year in a row, Coker wasn't 100 percent for preseason practice. A broken collarbone forced him to miss almost all of camp in 2010. An unspecified injury limited his participation this year.

"He was not at full speed most of camp," head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "So he didn't really look very good in our first game or two. But I think the last couple of weeks, we've seen him start to climb back. Obviously, we're going to need him to be with us."

Center James Ferentz said he felt Coker has run well all season, putting more blame on the offensive line for the tailback's sluggish start.

"We thought he was running hard — we just weren't giving him the chance to showcase his skills," James Ferentz said. "As an offensive line, we have a lot of work to do to make sure that he has holes to run."

A No. 2 back behind Coker also needs to established for the running game to progress successfully, Kirk Ferentz said. Iowa has been searching for that answer ever since a knee injury put Mika'il McCall out of action in the season's first game. The search might finally be over after another true freshman — Jordan Canzeri — was impressive against Monroe, running five times for 30 yards.

"He's fast. He can break tackles," Coker said of Canzeri. "I already knew that he was physically ready. He just had to get mentally ready. He's there now."

Secondary stabilizing

After switching things around in his secondary two weeks ago against Pittsburgh, Kirk Ferentz said Iowa isn't "planning any major changes" to the unit.

Micah Hyde was moved back to corner in place of Greg Castillo. Jordan Bernstine became the starting strong safety instead of Collin Sleeper.

Bernstine said the group's continuity is improving, something that can be difficult to achieve after personnel changes.

"When you're moving guys around, you don't know if this guy's going to do this, if he's going to do that right," he said. "When you're out there actually playing together for a while, you start to get more comfortable just kind of know that the person's going to be there. It's more of a trust thing."

Lowery still out

Iowa was previously hopeful that B.J. Lowery would recover from a wrist injury in time to return for the team's Big Ten opener against Penn State on Oct. 8. Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday that likely won't be the case. The sophomore cornerback "is going to need a couple more weeks."

The prognosis for left guard Nolan MacMillan — who has been hampered by a sports hernia since the spring — was more encouraging.

"He made progress last week and was able to practice a little bit," Kirk Ferentz said. "Hopefully, we'll continue to move him along as this week goes on."


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