Hawkeye ground game gains consistency


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Iowa's running game is looking more like, well, the Iowa running game again.

The Hawkeyes handed the ball to their backs 33 times in last week's win over Indiana. That was the most since Iowa backs ran the ball 35 times in a triple-overtime marathon against Iowa State in Week Two.

More importantly, Iowa ran the ball well and early. As coach Kirk Ferentz said, "We wanted to get Marcus [Coker] going, get the [offensive] line going."

The team did just that — Coker runs accounted for the Hawkeyes' first five plays and nine of their 14 first-quarter plays. In doing so, he helped open things up for James Vandenberg and the passing game.

The junior quarterback was 2-of-2 for 96 yards in the first quarter. In the second, he was 6-of-8 for 115. He finished the day 12-of-16 for 253 yards and four touchdowns, and Coker ran 23 times for 139 yards and two touchdowns.

"We definitely had great balance, and that started from the beginning of the game," Vandenberg said. "… When you can run the ball successfully, it opens everything up. That balance throughout the whole game of being able to run and pass led to our success."

Even though Coker ran the ball well for the second-straight week — he tallied 124 on 22 rushes against Northwestern the week before — the Hawkeyes' wide lead allowed their younger backs to gain more experience, something Ferentz called "a positive."

Redshirt freshman De'Andre Johnson ran five times for 26 yards, and true freshman Jordan Canzeri added 26 on four carries.

Iowa still appears unsettled on a firm No. 2, reflected in what running-back coach Lester Erb tells his unit before each game.

"He always tells us, 'Be ready because you never know when your number is going to be called,' " Johnson said.

Johnson said the murky depth-chart situation isn't frustrating, though, because "you really show what you can do in practice," and that's primarily how the distribution of carries is decided.

For Coker, it's not so much who else is getting the carries as long as it's not always him. The 6-0, 230-pound bruiser admitted he appreciates the occasional breather.

"I hate to come out," Coker said. "But getting that break and that breath, it definitely helps. Then I come back fresher."

Even more help could be available for Coker on Saturday at Minnesota. Ferentz said true freshman Mika'il McCall may be ready to go.

McCall was in uniform on Saturday against Indiana for the first time since breaking his ankle in the season-opener against Tennessee Tech. He still ranks as Iowa's fourth-leading rusher this season after recording 61 yards on nine carries in his only game.

"I don't know what they're going to do with him in the future this season, but he's looking good," Johnson said. "He can definitely make a run for it. He definitely always wants to play. I talk to him every day, he's always like, 'Man, I want to get back out there.' I guess we'll see what happens."

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