THERE'S THIS RUNNING BACK CURSE. You know of which I speak. We won't mention it by name, only hope it's moved on. If so, Iowa will have eight to nine running backs on scholarship next season. Two are incoming freshmen and could red-shirt which still leaves Iowa with seven. Let's examine the trends from 2013 and see if we can predict the number of carries for Iowa's running backs in 2014.
FIRST, THE 2013 STATS.(Source) (click to embiggen)
NOW, THE CURRENT DEPTH CHART. (click to embiggen)
BEFORE WE GUESS AT HOW THE CARRIES ARE DISTRIBUTED, LET'S DETERMINE WHO WILL PLAY. First, I believe C.J. Hilliard is a running back like Anthony Hitchens was a running back. If you recall, Hitchens came to Iowa as a 2-star running back recruit, started his career there and finished as a two-year starter at outside linebacker. I think Hilliard could make his way over to the defensive back seven at some time next fall. That brings us to the other freshman, Markel Smith. It's 50/50 on if he plays this upcoming season. If he can immediately help the team, he'll play. He had all kinds of crazy numbers in high school. Still, I say let him learn the entire offense and how to pass block. Iowa loses two from this group after 2014 and Smith will have his shot then.
Let's move on to Jonathan Parker and Akrum Wadley who both took a red-shirt season last year. They're similar is stature, short and thin. They're both quick and are a different kind of back for Iowa. They're more Damian Sims than Shonn Greene. They'll both likely play this year to get some experience on the field. Unless Iowa creates special packages for either, I think it's fair to expect around 10 carries for each on the season. Iowa's schedule isn't full of non-con cupcakes but Iowa should have a game or two where they're ahead enough in the fourth quarter to allow Parker and Wadley to get their feet wet.
THAT LEAVES MARK WEISMAN, JORDAN CANZERI, DAMON BULLOCK, LESHUN DANIELS AND BARKLEY HILL. And let's try to guess how many carries per game each will get this year. Before we do, let's examine the 2013 stats further.
Iowa finished 2013 with an average of 71.7 plays per game. That number was higher throughout the non-con schedule but dropped as Iowa got into conference play. In 13 games, Iowa had 556 rush attempts or 42.8 per game. Iowa passed the ball an average of 28.8 times per game for a 60/40 rush to pass ratio. I believe we can expect Iowa to average more plays per game this season, perhaps bumping the number to 75. I'll assume Iowa stays at 42 rush attempts per game. With an increase of three passes per game (on average), that brings Iowa's rush/pass ratio closer to 55/45.
OKAY, SO WHO GETS THE CARRIES? Iowa began 2013 averaging 52 carries per game in the non-con schedule. The Hawks finished those four games with: 43, 57, 60 and 48 rushes. They closed the season with 52, 44, 44 and 37 carries over their last four games for an average of 44.25 per game. Iowa's 2014 schedule opens with an FCS school, the #92 rated rush defense in 2013 and the #112 rated rush defense in 2013. I believe that's where Iowa will again average a higher rushes per game than over their season average. With heat issues and possible blowouts Iowa's 4th-8th running backs get the bulk of their carries.
MISCELLANEOUS CARRIES. Jake Rudock finished 2013 with 67 carries; C.J. Beathard 13. Sacks included. That's 80 of Iowa's 556. Fullbacks contributed five carries to the overall total. Wide receivers add another five carries. That's 90 of the 556 rushes or 16%.
That gives us our number in which to work. We said 42 rushes per game over 13 games minus 87 miscellaneous carries brings us to 459 carries. I won't try to break it down for each game but rather arrive at a total number and an average per game. To do so, let's use the last four games of the 2013 season to get a feel for how the top running backs shared the ball.
Why the last four? That's when Jordan Canzeri started to factor into the running back rotation. Chris White mentioned in his spring press conference that Mark Weisman didn't practice much after the Michigan State game last season. He didn't rush the ball much either. Weisman entered the game with MSU averaging almost 24 carries per game. He'd average 9.6 carries per game his next five games before getting healthy during Iowa's bye weeks and finishing Iowa's last three games averaging 19.67 carries per game.
Jordan Canzeri's production increased from 3.2 carries per game (in Iowa's first nine games) to 11.25 carries per game in Iowa's last four. The bulk of those carries came against Purdue in a blowout victory when he reached his season high of 20.
With Weisman healthy and Canzeri rising, Damon Bullock's carries saw a significant drop. Bullock began 2013 with a season high 17 carries against NIU. He matched that against Northwestern and again hit double-digit carries against Purdue. Bullock averaged 10.8 carries per game over Iowa's first 10 games of the season but saw only four carries against Michigan, three carries against Nebraska and three against LSU.
HERE WE GO, MY PREDICTIONS FOR 2014. I'll guess Weisman's total carries drop but he's still the bell cow of the Iowa rushing attack. Jordan Canzeri's numbers increase at the expense of Damon Bullock who becomes Iowa's third down running back option. LeShun Daniels' total carries increases a little bit from 2013 but Barkley Hill takes a few of those too. And finally, Jonathan Parker and Akrum Wadley get a handful of attempts in Iowa's early schedule.
How about this (stats include potential bowl game (13 games)):
|NAME||ATTEMPTS||YDS||YPA||ATTEMPTS PER GAME||YPG|
That's a pretty good year. The 196.7 yards per game would be the highest for Iowa over the last six years passing 2008's total of 2453 yards and 188.69 yards per game. Looking at 2013 NCAA statistics, the 196.7 yards per game would have put Iowa in 32nd overall last year for rushing offense. Iowa finished 2013 50th in the nation with 179.9 yards rushing per game. A 17 yard per game increase is realistic considering Iowa returns their top left tackle and the entire backfield.