When Iowa takes the field to play Kentucky in the 2022 Citrus Bowl, the Hawkeyes will do so without the aid of star running back Tyler Goodson. The junior back announced earlier this month that he will skip his senior season in favor of the declaring for the NFL draft, as well as opt out of participating in Iowa’s New Year’s Day bowl game.
Thank you Hawkeye Nation!! pic.twitter.com/R39eZz8Uzb— Tyler Goodson(Tgood) (@tgood1110) December 10, 2021
Goodson’s departure is certainly well-earned after giving Iowa three excellent seasons in which he twice earned All-Big Ten honors and thrice finished as the Hawkeyes’ rushing leader. While many Hawkeye fans were undoubtedly hoping to have Goodson back in the black and gold next year, Iowa’s coaching staff will have to look elsewhere for solutions to help jumpstart an ailing ground attack that averaged the fourth-fewest rushing yards per game in the Big Ten last season (119.85) and an offense that finished 123rd out of 130 FBS teams in yards per game (297.5). Kirk Ferentz and his staff will have the entire offseason to search for Goodson’s replacement and develop a plan for how best to use him in the 2022 campaign.
More pressing, however, is how Iowa’s offense will function in the Citrus Bowl with Goodson scheduled to miss the game. Goodson leads the Hawkeyes in rushing yards (1,151), yards from scrimmage (1,398), and total touchdowns (7) and is second on the team in receptions with 31. Goodson’s outsized role in Iowa’s offense will leave an immense amount of production needing to be replaced. The junior running back accounted for more touches from scrimmage (287) than the next seven Hawkeyes on that list combined (279). Goodson accounted for 73.8% of Iowa’s 1,558 rushing yards and 36.1% of its 3,868 yards of offense on the season. Iowa’s offense may be far from perfect, but when it has worked this season, it has largely run through Goodson.
Goodson also provided Iowa something few of his offensive teammates have been able to this year: explosiveness. He is responsible for seven plays from scrimmage that went for 30+ yards in 2021, as many as the next two most explosive Hawkeyes combined. That Goodson was able to generate big plays in both the running
and passing game
was particularly important in giving an Iowa offense which frequently struggled with consistent execution a chance to move the ball quickly in large bursts.
Finally, Goodson’s versatility added a layer of complexity to Iowa’s extremely vanilla offensive attack. Goodson’s ability to line up basically anywhere on the field (including at quarterback in the Wildcat formation) forced opposing defenses to account for his whereabouts on every play. With defenses keying in on Goodson, it created space for his teammates to make plays elsewhere on the field, while the mere act of sending him in motion or shifting him out of the backfield forced defenses to rethink their strategies on the fly in to ensure that he was adequately covered. Goodson proved to be an extremely effective player when deployed in creative ways, even if Iowa’s coaching staff underutilized him in that regard this season.
In Goodson’s absence, Iowa will need to look elsewhere to generate production on the ground. Gavin Williams emerged as Iowa’s #2 back during the latter half of the season, proving that his hard-nosed between the tackle running style could be an excellent compliment to the shiftier Goodson. While Williams lacks the breakaway speed and homerun ability of his former teammate, his ability to run through contact and his aversion to dancing in the backfield (a tendency that often contributed to large losses of yardage for Goodson when he encountered defenders behind the line of scrimmage) make him a dependable choice and the favorite to carry the bulk of the load against the Wildcats.
However, the Hawkeyes may have a few other options if they hope to generate some sizzle from the running back position. Ivory Kelly-Martin offers substantially more quickness than Williams does and has shown an ability to blow past defenders in the open field which could help generate chunk plays in the running game.
However, it is unclear how many touches Iowa’s coaching staff will feel comfortable giving the senior in this game. Kelly-Martin has struggled once again with injury this season and has not received a carry since fumbling on Iowa’s own goal line against Wisconsin, his fourth fumble of the season on only 44 carries. Kirk Ferentz will have to weigh Kelly-Martin’s seniority and comfort level with the offense against his lack of confidence in the running back’s ball security. How the coaches evaluate this ratio will ultimately determine the size of Kelly-Martin’s role against Kentucky. The staff could instead turn to Leshon Williams, a redshirt freshman who showed a nice burst during last offseason’s open practices. However, Williams has received carries in only two games this season and has rushed for 27 yards on 11 touches; hardly numbers that inspire confidence in him playing a major role against a Top 20 rushing defense.
Iowa’s coaching staff will likely also look outside the running back room to replace some of Goodson’s production. Players like Keagan Johnson, Charlie Jones, and Arland Bruce IV could be worked into the running game more frequently on jet sweeps, sent in motion on traditional between the tackle running plays to draw the eyes of the linebackers, or even used in a Wildcat to create speed mismatches and inject a new wrinkle into Iowa’s offense (and unlike Goodson, the coaching staff might feel comfortable letting Bruce, a former high school QB, throw a pass or two out of this formation). Finally, the Hawkeyes could rely more on the wide receiver screen game as an extension of their running attack, a strategy which might prove useful regardless of Goodson’s status for this game given Iowa’s struggles with run blocking for much of the season.
Goodson will not be an easy player for the Hawkeyes to replace in the Citrus Bowl, but perhaps his absence will prompt the Iowa coaching staff to attempt something that is long overdue: adding more creativity to the offense. Iowa’s offense struggled to move the ball and score consistently even with Goodson on the field, and it’s hard to imagine how the unit could look much worse without him. Yet with three weeks between when Goodson announced his departure from the team and the opening kickoff against Kentucky, Iowa was at least given ample time to examine its offensive shortcomings and develop a plan to address them without its feature back in tow. It has been said that problems are nothing but wake-up calls for creativity. If Iowa can find a creative new solution to moving the ball that doesn’t rely on crossing its fingers and hoping Goodson can make something out of nothing, perhaps it can help lay the groundwork for a more impressive offensive campaign in 2022.