2014 Football: Running Back Stable?

The 2013 season has just come to an end but there are a few things running through my mind as I think about next season. The first thing we discussed was whether or not there will be a ‘thing’ at quarterback this spring, which you can read here.  The next item we’ll discuss is the prospects at running back.

RUNNING BACK ISSUES? This might not be a popular opinion but I just don’t feel Mark Weisman is a bell cow Big Ten running back. He is a great guy to have in the stable and there are a lot of situations where he can be used successfully and in tandem with other backs who have different skill sets.

The bigger problem is less about Mark Weisman and more about two other things:

1) What wasn’t around him this year and
2) Greg Davis’ choices on how to use him

Iowa called a toss sweep to Weisman in the Outback Bowl. That’s just a fail waiting to happen, as were most of the outside running plays with Weisman this year against teams on Iowa’s schedule in October and November. He’s not a lateral runner, not in the least bit. He doesn’t possess the types of skills in which you build and offense around.  Outside runs to the right side of the line of scrimmage were rarely successful.

These are not knocks on Mark Weisman…He can get the hard yards and also punish a defense when the offensive line has been leaning on them all day. But Iowa is going to need more versatility out of its running back in order to reach its peak potential next year, at least in my opinion.  We saw some of that late in the year with Jordan Canzeri as he hits the hole much faster than Weisman and Canzeri’s yards per carry were better than Weisman’s over the final four games of the year. It’s just that Canzeri isn’t a bell cow back, either. Damon Bullock’s future is not at running back.

Enter LeShun Daniels, who should really grow this spring and summer and be ready to take any carries that went to Damon Bullock over the final half of this year. He’s big enough for Iowa’s power game and appears fast enough to get through the line quickly when the hole is there at the point of attack. Iowa also has talent coming in from the recruiting trails in record setting Markel Smith from St Louis.

I am NOT saying that Iowa’s backfield is a smoldering hole of nothing, as we’ve seen in past years after the effects of AIRBHG. That’s not the case and Iowa just showed it could win eight games with this group of running backs. They’re not chopped liver and Iowa’s schedule next year is so soft that this group could probably get to nine wins.  They had some decent production this year relative to one of the most successful Ferentz-era rushing years:

Only 2002 was better for a Ferentz-era team as it relates to rushing yards per game.  That 2002 team also averaged just over 5-yards per attempt while the 2008 team averaged just shy of 4.8 yards per attempt.  This year’s Iowa team, while having a good gross total, got there the really hard way as their yards per carry average was 4.20.  The offensive line did a very good job this year and in most of the games the running backs first two yards came courtesy of the offensive line push. Iowa’s running game ranked 6th in the Big Ten in yards per carry and it simply lacks big plays aside from what Canzeri contributed.

-Iowa’s 18 rushing touchdowns were 10th in the B1G
-Iowa ranked 75th in the nation in yards per attempt
-Iowa was 9th in the B1G in rushing attempts of 10+yards for the 2nd year in a row
-Iowa was 10th in the B1G in rushing attempts of 20+yards and 30+yards

So while in aggregate this season’s rushing total looks ‘sexy’ next to that of 2008 the TYPE of production Iowa had in 2008 is greatly preferred. The threat of more explosive plays takes heat off of a quarterback and changes what the defense does and makes it easier to run. When Mark Weisman is in the game, even though he can be a load to bring down, the defense knows he is limited in some ways. Iowa’s tool box gets a bit smaller and the margin for error for the quarterback is removed. When Iowa’s offensive linemen show zone-scheme flow to the outside, opposing linebackers are flying to the outside with them because they do not fear Weisman’s cutback abilities given his challenges with moving laterally.

Weisman is a part of the stew and Canzeri should be, too. I’d wager that Daniels will be right there in the mix and Bullock is certainly capable to give everyone a breather here or there but I don’t think he’s one of Iowa’s three best rushing options (at a minimum).

You can win games with a rotation…you can win games with multiple backs. There is more than one way to skin a cat, but some of the onus is on Greg Davis to tailor his play calling to the backs he has on the field and not just go ‘one size fits all’.

The Iowa football program needs to do all that it can do to find more explosive plays. Iowa’s defense during the Norm Parker era was often called bland because it kept running the same sets over and over and over. Nothing sexy and it rarely blitzed, because it was forcing the opposing team to make nine-plus play drives to score believing that over time it would win more battles than it loses.

When I looked at the Iowa offense this year I saw the same thing, just on the opposite side of the ball. Iowa’s lack of explosiveness in the running game and choosing to run it nearly 60-percent of the time meant it’s margin for error was razor thin and a great deal of pressure was placed on a very green quarterback.

I think the Hawkeyes may have a few horses in the stable next year that can take some heat off of the passing gmae and an offensive line that can once again open up some good holes. Weisman and Canzeri can be a part of the stew but I don’t think either player is THE answer at running back.

  • Jon Dahlstrom

    One thing I would like to see or should I say hope happens over the offseason is that they move Powell to the slot. This frees him up for slants, double moves and the occasional jet sweep.

    This gives them another dimension on offense and gets their speedy play makers more touches.

    • Agreed

      Jon, this is an awesome idea and one that would help the Iowa offense immensely. It’s maddening that people being paid millions to make these adjustments just don’t get it. 2014 is sitting there for Iowa to capture. The personnel is available to make it happen. But, as usual, the real question is: Can the KF coaching staff rise to the occasion and use that personnel intelligently and creatively? History says no, and that’s just not acceptable. So I hope we’ll see this and many other crucial personnel changes in the 2014 Hawkeye offense.

      • Matt

        Jon, you’re an idiot. History says Kirk HAS lead the hawks to big ten titles. Additionally, what are your football credentials? Let me guess, two years as a backup tackle on a small hs jv team and a couple dynasty national championships on play station? Do you want to pass judgement on NASA aerospace engineers next.

        • Matt

          That was aimed at the post above, not to Jon. Sorry, jobs post was intelligent, bit so much for the reply to it

        • HNStaff

          LOL. Nice.

        • jeffbuck

          No, Matt, that argument is pure ad hominem. It makes no difference what Jon’s credentials are here. We’re all equal here. Deal with his logic. And I don’t agree that KF’s two titles — which are receding well into the distance — prove much, if anything, concerning the ability of KF and staff to make strategic adjustments. I am OK with Kirk, but not because of his flexibility, which is minimal.

        • BillyBilly

          I caught Matt’s sarcasm and I believe Jon did too… 🙂

    • Coach W

      When does Iowa ever successfully run the jet sweep? It is a nightmare every time we run that play, regardless of who carries the ball.

  • GP

    Canzeri Canzeri Canzeri. He can get 15-20 carries a game and not break down. I think he should be getting that amount of touches. He’s explosive and has good vision. His upside will help this team more then any of the others. Freddy Russell had a ton of touches while he was the bell cow I don’t think Canzeri is any smaller then he was and if anything he’s probably faster. I think Weisman is much better utilized as the short yardage guy. Be it goal line 3rd and short and change up. If Daniels can hold on to the ball then I am intrigued by what he brings to the table. And I agree that Bullock isn’t even the 4th best option at this point. He’s not fast quick or have good vision. Just keep him as depth maybe see if he can be a receiver. He does have good hands and is a team guy. He’s went from being the man to an after thought and I’ve never heard him cry about anything. The incoming Smith kid really intrigues me as well. But not for his first year. He should redshirt and if he sees the field this year it’ll be because AIRBHG comes back to rear her face. Iowa has other rbs on the roster as well. I’m tired of Iowa burning redshirts to play a kid for 5 or 6 snaps 2 or 3 games a year. They aren’t gaining enough from that. Let em save the year of eligibility

    • cleaning lady

      agree, agree and agree! Why do they keep saying ‘will Iowa have a running back in 2014″ he’s there, use him !

      • GP

        I think Iowa’s Oline with Shreff coming back should be awesome. So there really shouldn’t be any excuse for the running game to not being effective. I think Canzeri not getting playing time early on was only because he didn’t fit what style of play they wanted to have. I say screw style go who is the most effective. I’m sick of the better players being on the bench. And that goes for QB too if it comes down to it that Beathard deserves to play get him in. They liked the idea of Weisman wearing down the defense. When he didn’t get past the 2nd level of the D but just a handful of times. It’s the Oline that does the wearing down of the D more so then the RB. Canzeri is so much faster and quicker and sees the holes that I’ll live with him putting the ball on the ground a time or two more then the others if he’s flipping the field position more often. If I ever see a designed outside running play or a pitch play called for Weisman I swear that should come with a firing. Not one of those has worked or will work with him unless the D is so way over matched or out of position.

  • hawkphan00

    Said the same thing this morning in the football forum!

  • San Clemente Hawk

    Please. Move Canzeri and Daniels to your 1 an 2 at TB. Move Weismann to fullback. If he has a shot at the pros that is where he will play. You could set up screens and play action fakes to your fullback giving you a more dynamic offense. Did you see what the MSU fullback fit in the Rose Bowl with two big catches

    Start CJ. Strong arm and much faster has the confidence to put it down field and stretch the defenses. Lastly move Bullock to slot recover to see how he does. Let him catch in space a break some tackles.

    • cleaning lady

      make it happen KF.

  • cleaning lady

    Weismann to fullback. and San Clemente Hawk, yes we did see the MSU fullbacks two BIG catches. ! come on coach…don’t you agree?

  • Aliso Viejo Hawk

    For me the biggest advantage Canzeri has over the other running backs who played this year is vision. On the stretch plays it seemed like Weisman and Bullock only saw the holes that opened up in front of them, but Canzeri saw holes open in-front, parallel and behind him. Oh and he also has the burst to get through the hole.

    I’m on board, Weisman to fullback and Bullock to WR.

  • jeffbuck

    We should not only have two backs to whom the ball might go (I agree with others than Daniels and Canzeri should be the two), but we should have T-formation plays where the under-center quarterback fakes to one and gives to the other — “cross-buck” plays — or fakes the full-back dive and gives to the slot-back (Bullock) or half-back (Canzeri) coming across around end, close to and parallel to the line. Why stop at having two guys who might get handed the ball? Fake to one and give to another. It freaking kills me that this style of deception has all but disappeared from football. The only faking is in bootlegs and zone reads — both of which I like, by the way — but why not add some of these old-school plays where the QB fakes to one back and gives to another? I was watching some film recently of a late 60s (I think) Michigan/Ohio State game and Michigan was running plays like this plenty and running them quickly — quick execution — and they were getting five-yard bursts very regularly. We could add real dimension by adding just these two plays, and they’re easy to learn.

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