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Who Dat? A Beginner's Guide To What's Left Of The Iowa Running Game

With the news that AIRBHG is wreaking havoc on not just ligaments, brains, and decision-making processes but also fucking hearts (get well soon, Cambus), it's probably time to take a look at what options Iowa actually has at running back for the Insight Bowl tomorrow night. 

The Starter -- Marcus Coker (FR) 2010: 81 carries, 403 yards, 1 TD
Our beloved Coked-Up Werewolf was Iowa's most decorated running back recruit since Albert Young decided to spurn Madison and take his talents to Iowa City in the fall of 2003 and for good reason: he was an unstoppable bowling ball of a runner from Maryland's celebrated Dematha High School who evoked memories of Shonn Greene punishing foolish defensive backs.  Even so, it's entirely possible that he wouldn't have played a snap if Robinson, Hampton, and Wegher had all stayed healthy and kept their smiles and given Iowa the three-headed monster at RB we all feverishly dreamed of back in April. 

Then again, any Iowa fan with a passing knowledge of recent history would know that it pays to know even the sixth-string RB on Iowa's depth chart because there's a damn good chance that he'll be playing meaningful snaps at some point.  And, sure enough, Wegher went AWOL from fall camp and Hampton's other ACL found itself the victim of AIRBHG's rage in Arizona and all of a sudden Iowa was done to just A-Rob and Coker at RB.  Ferentz's mule-headed stubbornness kept Coker from playing any meaningful minutes outside of the Ball State romp until (surprise, surprise) injury took A-Rob out of the picture for much of November and made it The Coked-Up Werewolf Show at RB in November.

The early returns for Coker were promising.  In his first start, he churned out 129 yards on 22 carries against Indiana and looked every bit the punishing runner his highlight videos promised.  The top-end speed wasn't there (and may never be), but the brutal stiff-arm was, along with an impressive unwillingness to go down on initial contact.  He was called on again when "academic indigestion" (and then poor play) took A-Rob out of the picture against Ohio State and was again impressive: 7 carries, 60 yards, and one bruising TD.  Anyone with two functioning eyes could see that he was the more effective running back in the game (though his blocking skills left much to be desired).  After another concussion took A-Rob out of the depth chart, Coker again got the call against Minnesota -- and yet again he was solid: 90 yards on 21 carries and one of the few Iowa players who seemed to give a damn on the frigid TCF Bank turf.  He did have a costly late-game fumble, but hey: shit happens. 

And now with grades apparently taking A-Rob out of comission for the Insight Bowl, the starting job is once again Coker's.  If there's a silver lining to all the drama (injury-related and otherwise) involving A-Rob over the past two months it's that Coker has been able to get a lot of first-team reps, both in practice and in game situations.  That can only speed along his development.  Either way, he's options A, B, C, and D at the Insight Bowl; if Iowa's running the ball, expect him to be the one carrying the ball because the other options are, frankly, kinda terrifying.

The Listed Back-Up -- Paki O'Meara (SR) 2010: 10 carries, 56 yards; career: 47 carries, 153 yards, 2 TD
According to the listed depth chart, we should be moving the DAS PAKIBOMB Advisory System from yellow to orange -- and getting ready to move it up to red if Coker goes down in the Insight Bowl -- but we're loathe to read too much into that depth chart.  Ferentz said this about Paki back in September:

"He has had two concussions now within a month and a half time," Ferentz said of O’Meara, a Cedar Rapids native. "We’re going to be very careful about what he does. That might be a career thing, too."

And when concussions felled A-Rob in November, this is what we heard about Paki:

It’s unclear whether senior Paki O’Meara would be an option at running back. He’s seen limited special teams action since suffering a concussion at Arizona.

The reality is that Paki hasn't had a single snap at RB since the ISU game in early September, even with the season in the balance and Coker the only healthy option for half of the games in November.  And now they're going to risk Paki's health in a meaningless December bowl game?  Unless Santa brought Paki a new, undamaged brain for Christmas or the training staff has equipped him with some sort of concussion-repelling head gear (and if they have, they should totally license that to the NFL and make a fucking fortune off it), it's awful hard to see Paki getting a look at RB now.

The Real Back-Up -- Jason White (RS FR) 2010: 1 carry, 14 yards; 5 tackles
14 YPC?!  ZOMG HE NEEDS TO PLAY RIGHT THIS SECOND!  What do you mean "he's only had one carry and it came against Eastern Illinois"?  STOP HATING, HATER.  He's still listed as a DB and doesn't officially appear on the RB depth chart right now, but he's worked there before and still seems more likely to fill-in at RB than a concussion-addled DAS PAKIBOMB.  His name (the same as a former Heisman-winning Oklahoma QB) and number (#3) guarantee all kinds of dumb comments from people who are drunk, confused, and/or stupid (or some combination of all of the above).  Here are some helpful hints on telling him apart from them: he's not the Oklahoma QB because (a) he's not white, (b) he doesn't play quarterback, (c) he still has eligibility left, (d) his knee ligaments aren't held together with chewing gum, Krazy Glue, and prayer (although don't tell AIRBHG that), and (e) he didn't steal a Heisman trophy from a more deserving Larry Fitzgerald.  And he's not Brandon Wegher because Jason White is still on the team.

The Freshman -- Anthony Hitchens (FR) 2010: 0 carries; 7 tackles
Whenever I see Hitchens' name, I immediately picture a half-naked Christopher Hitchens, which is (obviously) pretty goddamn terrifying.  This is probably why; as always, Jacobi is to blame.  Anyway, our Hitchens is neither white nor a scathing British writer, which is probably a good thing since we're getting ready to play Missouri in a football game, not challenge them to a satire-off (although let's be honest: that would be way more fun and BHGP would totally kick the stripes out of Rock M Nation).  Hitchens came to Iowa with the intention of playing defensive back (what with Iowa's depth there -- especially at safety -- being pretty woeful at the start of the year), but he did run for 1428 yards and 21 TDs as a high school senior, so it's not like running back would be a foreign position to him.  And since his redshirt has already been burned (for special teams duty), it makes more sense to throw him out there if things get really desperate than it does to send out the next guy...

The Other Freshman -- De'Andre Johnson (FR)
Unlike Hitchens, Johnson actually came to Iowa to play RB (the poor, deluded fool).  Johnson was the other true freshman RB (along with Coker) from last year's recruiting class and was actually the subject of some buzz during fall practice (though in hindsight, that may have just been AIRBHG's locusts).  But the thing's that kept Johnson's redshirt firmly affixed even as his fellow running backs dropped like flies was the same thing that's meant his last official stats as a running back were from his junior season of high school (1121 yards, 10 TD): his ACL done blowed up before his senior year of high school and he's been rehabbing it ever since.  It's reportedly healed up and ready to go (hence the buzz around his performance in fall practice), but if there was no need to rip off his redshirt when the season was falling apart in November, why waste it now for a meaningless December bowl game?  Outside of Coker, Johnson may be the one running back on the roster most capable of helping Iowa in the Insight Bowl, but it's probably not worth throwing away his redshirt year for the goddamn Insight Bowl.  If this was the Rose Bowl or the national championship game -- sure, all hands on deck.  For a bowl game no one's even going to remember by April?  No way.