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Iowa Football 2020 Position Previews: Running Backs

Can Iowa catch lightning in a bottle with Tyler Goodson?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Holiday Bowl - USC v Iowa Photo by John Cordes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Thanks to the powerful rushing attacks that highlighted the end of Hayden Fry’s tenure at Iowa, and then ushered in the newish identity of Hawkeye football under Kirk Ferentz, the Black and Gold have had this stereotype of being an elite running program following them around forever.

But when you dig into the numbers, eight of the last 11 seasons finished without a single tailback going for over 1,000 yards himself. Part of this is a personnel issue (Marcus Coker may have had two more years of dominance left in him, but that’s history). Part of this was a scheme issue, as Iowa suffered some growing pains under new offensive coordinator Greg Davis.

But using a 1,000-yard rusher isn’t the end-all, be-all statistic when it comes to assessing the success of a team’s ground attack (Jordan Canzeri fell just 16 yard short of crossing the millennium mark in 2015, Mark Weisman 26 yards shy in 2013). Running back by-committee has largely become the identity of backfields in college football and the NFL as of late. 2009 had Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher. 2015 had Canzeri, LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley, and last year saw Tyler Goodson emerge as the face of an Iowa backfield that featured Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young.

All this is to say Iowa’s had some great success with one feature back in the past. More recently, Iowa’s had better luck with two or three guys sharing the load. And after watching last year’s offense, I’m ready to say this:

Feed Tyler Goodson.

RB1 on Highway 1

I remember JPinIC always worrying over the idea that Goodson would flip his commitment from Iowa after Goodson kept on putting up 200 yards a game, going on to win Georgia player of the year in 2018. Somehow, Goodson’s three-star ranking never went up, and his desire to play in Iowa City only grew.

After figuring Mekhi Sargent, Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin would take up the bulk of carries in ‘19, most concluded Goodson would redshirt. It became clear early on that Goodson would have to see the field, evidenced by the fact that IKM would take a redshirt four games into the season, and not the 18-year old.

Goodson saw 10 carries in just the second game of his career, and even though the opponent was Rutgers, Goodson did some things with the ball that reminded us a little of Wadley.

Goodson’s carries would fluctuate between 8-15 per game the entire year, peaking at 21 against Illinois—an effort where he gained just 38 yards. However, his flashes grew more frequent as the season progressed, and he simply couldn’t be ignored by the offense any longer. It didn’t take long to jump Toren Young on the depth chart, and eventually eat carries from Sargent en route to starting 4 games.

Iowa’s rushing attack never could consistently put it together last year it seemed, but even with the departure of Young, things are poised to reach something special with Goodson leading the charge in 2020.

Though Goodson rushed for just 638 yards and 5 scores a year ago, he still averaged close to 5 yards a pop, and did things like this:

He’s shown promise to be a threat in the receiving game, and between the tackles, Goodson can get skinny like a bride six weeks from her wedding day, without losing a bit of speed.

The entire Nebraska game was more or less a highlight reel for Goodson, where he had the lone 100-yard rushing day of his season, going for 116 yards and a score on just 13 carries.

A strong Holiday Bowl for the Iowa offense will hopefully be enough to carry the momentum forward in what has been an offseason full of hiccups within the Iowa locker room, and the greater college football landscape. My fear is Goodson’s talents can’t be fully appreciated and unlocked in the coming years.

Mekhi Time

I had sky-high expectations for Sargent going into last year, even writing he’d be a darkhorse for all-conference. Obviously, I didn’t expect Goodson to be so good, and Iowa’s overall rushing scheme to be so flat-footed.

Anyway, Sargent is still an invaluable cog in the Iowa offense as he’s more of a power runner than Goodson and is one of the better blocking backs I can remember seeing.

Sargent joined Goodson on the Doak Walker Award watch list this season, which is a really lofty expectation after Sargent saw his carries drop about 20 percent from 2018 to last year, but it’s really nice to know Iowa has two lead backs on its roster.

I won’t even be a little surprised if Sargent takes over for a handful of games next year if he has a hot hand, easing pressure a little bit for the underclassman in Goodson.

The law firm.

It feels like a common tale at Iowa: a talented freshman makes a couple plays early in his career, but goes on to get buried on the depth chart throughout his career. When it felt like Ivory Kelly-Martin would share a starring role with Toren Young after sitting behind Akrum Wadley in 2018, Sargent transferred in and ate the carries. The same thing happened in ‘19, but with Goodson, so much so IKM took a redshirt as a junior.

The outlook hasn’t gotten much better for Kelly-Martin, even after the graduation of Young. More than anything, it’ll be a bit of a luxury the Iowa staff has three running backs it can trust in almost any situation on its roster. And by all accounts Kelly-Martin’s voice is a respected one in the locker room, as he’s helped lead the charge by Iowa players this offseason.

Still, it’s a crowded backfield in Iowa City, and while just one bad turn could catapult the season for IKM, it’s really tough to envision a scenario where he serves as anything more than a change of pace for the offense.

The Rest

Iowa always seems to have a really talented freshman tailback on its roster. It’s just a matter of getting the kid to wait long enough to get his number called. This season, that honor goes to Gavin Williams, a Dowling Catholic graduate who’s already got decent size at 6-0, 200 lbs. Williams had offers from Michigan, Iowa State and Nebraska, but signs still point to a redshirt year for the local kid.

Shadrick Byrd was the other running back in Goodson’s class, and is a sneaky pick for goal line duty (or a switch to fullback?) after clocking in at 5-10, 217 lbs this spring.

Leshon Williams joins the aforementioned Williams as the other running back from the 2020 class; each will have to fight for playing time this season.

In conclusion, please feed Tyler Goodson.

Lead Blockers

Iowa kinda sorta has to break in a new fullback after the departure of my dear cousin, Brady Ross, who’s handled FB duties for the past three years or so.

Turner Pallissard and Monte Pottebaum—two guys who sound like they run a mixology course on YouTube—saw action in 4 and 11 games, respectively, a year ago. This leads me to believe Pottebaum is the Fullback of the Future.

There’s also a fullback legacy (!!!) on the team in redshirt freshman Johnny Plewa. He’s the younger brother of Macon Plewa, Iowa’s starting fullback from 2013-15.

In conclusion, feed Tyler Goodson.