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BHGP Film Room: The Necessary Third Back

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Recent history says depth is needed at running back

Outback Bowl - Mississippi State v Iowa Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The History

Over the past 5 seasons, the top two running backs each season have combined for 320 yards and 1571 yards per season. For most of that time, Iowa has needed additional depth at the position that is so important to a physical and balanced offense. The third and forth backs during those seasons have averaged a combined 78 carries and 382 yards. While those numbers are not eye popping, they do show that most seasons, Iowa has needed those players for important carries during the season.


2020 Depth

With the early departure of Toren Young (career 262 carries, 1262 yards, 8 TD) the bulk of the focus will be on sophomore Tyler Goodson and senior Mekhi Sargent. When Iowa needs to dip past those two workhorses, you will find junior Ivory Kelly-Martin, redshirt freshman Shadrick Byrd, and incoming freshman Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams.


Comeback Season?

Following a promising freshman campaign, Ivory Kelly-Martin came into the season opener in 2018 as the top back. The season quickly took a downward turn following an ankle injury against Northern Illinois that sidelined him for two weeks. The ankle injury lingered as Kelly-Martin started six games that season but was in and out of the lineup. He ended the season with 97 carries, 341 yards, and 2 touchdowns.

In 2019, Kelly-Martin played in four games before sitting out the remainder of the season to preserve his previously unused redshirt season.

When healthy, the 5’10” 203 pound redshirt junior has flashed potential with his combination of speed and balance.

In 2019 against Rutgers, Kelly-Martin shows off his ability as a receiver out of the backfield. On 2nd and 10, Iowa is in shotgun with Kelly-Martin flanking Nate Stanley to his left. After he steps up faking a block, he slides left following his offensive lineman to take the screen pass. It was a perfectly called play for the defense and Kelly-Martin is able to cut up field behind two great blocks for the 25 yard reception. He’s able to accelerate quickly and does a great job finishing the play gaining an additional 7 yards after first contact.

Freshman Flash

In his freshman campaign, Kelly-Martin finished with his best game at Nebraska.

It’s an Iowa staple outside zone call out of I-formation when Kelly-Martin shows off the previously mentioned speed and balance. He quickly presses the line of scrimmage before running through an initial arm tackle. He's hit by a defensive back but is able to put his hand down quickly and dive forward for an additional four yards following the hit. He’s able to gain 9 yards following initial contact and it’s a first down on the 12 yard carry.

The following play, Iowa goes inside power with a reverse pivot from Stanley out of center. The offensive line gets great interior push, but Kelly-Martin shows off his footwork in the hole using a jump cut to avoid the linebacker. When contact is imminent, he’s able to put his head down and carry a defender to push forward near another first down.

His biggest play of the game comes on the following possession out of inside zone. Once again the offensive line dominates the Nebraska front opening a huge hole for Kelly-Martin. After that, its his vision and speed taking over. Kelly-Martin cuts backside to the right before outrunning a linebacker, cutting past a safety, and outrunning a cornerback before finally being brought down 57 yards later. He again is fighting for additional yards at the end of the play.


During his career Kelly-Martin has shown additional versatility and playmaking as a pass catcher and kick returner. Iowa will be breaking in a new starting quarterback in 2020 and a youthful signal caller’s best friend is a strong running game. Iowa will need depth at running back, and I look for Ivory Kelly-Martin to make an impact after being a forgotten man following his 2019 redshirt season.