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Hawk Stock: 2011 Running Backs

by HawkeyeGameFilm

MARCUS COKER

After getting off to a slow start in September Marcus Coker kicked it in gear and rushed for 1,384 yards in the 2011 regular season. The ball security issues were the early sticking point for Coker who fumbled twice in his first four touches of the year. He had a better game the next week against Iowa St rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns. However, he only averaged 4 YPC and had another fumble in that game. His struggles continued into the Pitt game where he was shut down much of the time and was limited to 86 yards on 23 carries with no touchdowns.

He had his first solid end-to-end game in week four against Lousiana-Monroe where he scored 2 TDs while rushing for 118 yards on only 13 carries. Things took a bit of a downturn the next week against a top 10 defense in Penn St. He was held to 74 yards rushing but did have 3 catches for 23 yards, including a couple of catches that resulted in first downs. The offense only scored 3 points and struggled greatly as a whole in that game, so the struggling was not limited to Coker.

In his next 4 games Coker settled into a zone and rushed for 647 yards and 8 TDs. He averaged 6.1 YPC during this stretch and was consistently keeping the chains moving for the Iowa offense. Coker had his best game of the season against Minnesota during this four game stretch but it was in a losing effort.

Coker was held under 100 yards in 2 of the Hawkeyes last 3 games which were Michigan St and Nebraska. He did have a solid day on the road in Iowa’s lone road win at Purdue. By the time the Nebraska game rolled around it looked like Coker was worn down. He had been shouldering the load alone the whole year and on the short week it looks like it finally caught up to him. He was still relatively effective against Nebraska but just didn’t have that same power he’d flashed earlier in the season.  Next, lets look at some stats from 2011.

Coker started all 12 games and posted solid overall numbers for the 2011 regular season. He was the definition of a load back and at times didn’t come off the field after big runs. He was 7th in the nation with 23.33 attempts per game. He averaged a very solid 4.94 YPC and racked up 15TDs as well. His 115.33 YPG was good enough to put him at 14th nationally. Overall it was a pretty successful season from a purely statistical perspective.

A casual observer might have noticed Coker starting out the year slow and also ending the year slow. A simple statistic to back that up is breaking down Cokers season by month:

It’s not only that the number of yards/game is substantially higher but the YPC is very important for Iowa’s offense as well. The number of carries he averaged per game rose steadily as well.

The numbers here mirror those of James Vandenberg for the 2011 season. Clearly Coker struggled with the ranked teams and was noticeably better against non-ranked opponents. The four ranked teams they played were ranked 12th(Michigan St), 35th(Michigan), 48th(Penn St), & 66th(Nebraska) nationally in rushing defense. The only game where Coker topped was consistently effective was against Michigan where he scored 2 TDs while rushing for 132 yards. Again the trend of the offense struggling against ranked foes shows up in the statistics.

Backups

There isn’t much to talk about with the backups other than to say there were few opportunities for these guys to make their mark. There appears to be some talent and potential in this group but we didn’t get more than a few fleeting glances. Below are the cumulative stats of all the running backs not named Marcus Coker.

Mika’il McCall, DeAndre Johnson, Jordan Canzeri, Jason White, Brad Rogers and Damon Bullock all had a hand in creating the above numbers but in very limited action. To start the year McCall was the clear number two guy who flashed some ability in the opener against Tennessee Tech. On his 9th carry of that game he suffered a broken ankle and would have to sit a couple of months while it healed.

After McCall was injured the backup duties were briefly passed to another true freshman, Damon Bullock, who only got 8 carries in games 3 and 4 before never seeing the field again. DeAndre Johnson was the next man in, but he was sparsely used as well. Johnson had 10 carries in the 6 or 7 games when he was the number two guy. Jason White saw the field as a slot WR in at different times but wasn’t really used to carry the ball. After Brad Rogers got medical clearance to play I thought he’d be able to take a few carries off Coker’s shoulders, but he carried the ball just 1 time and caught only 1 pass in the 8 games he played. Jordan Canzeri flashed speed and surprising power and balance in his brief appearance in week 4 against Lousiana-Monroe and got on the field again against Indiana for a few carries. After that appearance he struggled with hamstring issues and was inactive for several games down the stretch.

After McCall recovered from the early season injury it took awhile for the coaching staff to get him back into the fold and when they did he promptly fumbled on his second carry. Really just wasn’t a good year to be a back-up running back at Iowa between the injuries and the non-use. It certainly appeared the group of back-ups had tools that could have been used by the offense. Coker’s production tailed off down the stretch and it probably had a lot to do with carrying the load for so long.

The bright spot for the running backs other than Coker was Brad Rogers development as a lead blocking fullback. He took a few games to get back up to speed but when he did he stepped up in a big way. He is a good athlete for a fullback and showed he can be very physical inside. He started making some very strong lead blocks and had a big hand in the success of Marcus Coker down the stretch. Really thought he would be more involved as a receiver or ball carrier as well. He showed some ability as a true freshman last year in mop up duty and could have added another weapon to the Iowa offense. Hopefully he gets utilized more next season.

Summary

While Coker was the only back who saw significant carries, Iowa doesn’t lack ability at the running back position. It was clear that Coker was being worn down as the season went on and there are capable guys behind him. Next year they’ll all have another solid off-season under their belts and Iowa will have 3 true Sophomores, and a RS sophomore who should be vying for carries. While none of them is a proven reliable back, there is certainly reason to be optimistic about the depth at RB. Coker will only be a junior next year and should have a more than capable cast of guys to spell him and change things up in 2012.

  • Hawk6868

    Good article, but can you explain why we didn’t use the backups more often? It was obvious Coker needed a break and the backups appeared to be quicker.

    • Hawkeye Gamefilm

      As stated by a commenter above it was a combination of things: injuries, in-experience, & coaching style. If McCall stays healthy I think the season has a much different pattern to it. None of the back-ups were guys who’d been game tested much and combine that with the conservative nature of the staff and you have a recipe for Coker being the only guy they trust. In this case being conservative probably wasn’t all bad. Both McCall and Bullock fumbled in their limited touches, but even Ferentz himself mentioned in press conferences he needed some prodding to get the younger guys on the field. Tough season to be a back-up.

      • 1980Hawk

        Ferentz can’t have it both ways…always try to keep the games close, yet not properly develop backups, if he wants to be a consistent higher-level winner.  He needs to be developing them at their position, not just special teams.  This has been a recurring theme with his teams and it has cost us games virtually every year.  I’d rather lose one early and have much more depth and fresh players moving forward than lose two later in the year due to injuries and player burnout.  Our late season record the last several years speaks for itself.

        Thanks Hawkeye Gamefilm for your great work!

        • namblaPSUer

          The intention isn’t to keep ALL games close.  In the past we’ve had a number of seasons where we played and/or developed plenty of depth at RB.  Here’s a little history lesson for ya ….

          ’02: Russell, Lewis
          ’05 and ’07: Young, Sims
          ’06: Young, Sims, and Greene
          ’08: Greene, Hampton
          ’09: Robinson, Wegher

          When circumstances allow it, the coaching staff as an established track record of playing several guys.  It’s true that Ferentz/KOK definitely appear to prefer to have a lead back, however, they’ve also been more than willing to play several guys too.

          Folks here often try to draw trends from a single data point and you simply cannot do that.

          • 1980Hawk

            Good points and fair comments.  Ferentz still failed this year and have done it at multiple positions over the past several years.  We could also cite the examples like Robinson still playing when he should have been out last year against Michigan State, him getting another concussion shortly thereafter and then basically blowing his career at Iowa.

            Our schedule is going to be getting harder, not easier, over the next several years, with more Big 10 games and more games in general.  The trend needs to change or we’ll keep having poor late season results and remain middle-tier.

          • Larry Flint

            Sure, ARob probably should have gone out earlier, however, I also know for a fact that the O last year had placed more of a focus on “finishing” and keeping their foot on the gas.  Players often feed off games (motivation/confidence-wise) when the coaches allow them to show a “killer instinct.” 

            A lot of folks have lauded Brett Bielema for demonstrating such a killer instinct, keeping some of his top players in pretty late in one-sided affairs.  It can be smart when the guys remain healthy … however, it can also backfire when guys get injured.  In that game, clearly it backfired.

  • Mgthawk

    My guess, and that’s all it is since I’m not at practice everyday, is that it’s nothing more than a trust issue with KF.  For what ever reason he just didn’t trust those other RB’s to hang onto the ball and/or pick up the blitz. 

    IMO, this is nothing more than stubborness and horrible coaching and a total lack of development during the early season while you are playing “lesser” opponents. 

    As a coach you KNOW that relying on one and in some cases, even two RB’s for a whole season is next to crazy.  We got lucky that Coker is very durable.  But still no excuse for the lack of development of the other RB’s in my book.

    • Larry Flint

      Sure, I’m sure that he didn’t trust them to be consistent when it came to picking up the blitz.  A missed block on blitz pick-up can lead to fumbles … and that can squarely shift the momentum in the game away from the Hawks.

      Ferentz was very clear in stating that the Hawks were playing to win … and playing an inexperienced guy at RB only really made sense if the Hawks managed to gain some “breathing room” in a game.  And, pretty much the only games where we had such breathing room were early in the season AND against Purdue.  Now ask yourself, when did our backups see action?

      The Hawks initially were counting on McCall, but then he went down to injury.  Bullock was the next guy in, but he wasn’t getting the job done.  It took a few games to get him ready, but then Canzeri appeared to be the next guy to carry the torch at the back-up spot.  It was glaringly OBVIOUS that the coaches were trying to develop depth behind Coker.  However, Canzeri went down … and then Coker really started to shine. 

      Unfortunately, we continued to be involved in a bunch of close games … so it simply didn’t make sense to risk playing McCall again because it was so deep in the season and he didn’t have enough experience.  If you go back to watching those games, Coker really was giving the Hawks our best chance to WIN games.

      So, what happened when McCall finally got his chance?  He proved Ferentz correct.  Instead of blowing Purdue out like we should have, that fumble was costly and allowed Purdue to regain a bit of momentum.

      It’s TRUE that Iowa needed to develop more depth to help out Coker.  However, it’s equally true that the coaches wanted and attempted to do so as well.  However, the best time to get such guys prepped for game action late in the season is for them to develop EARLY in the season.  The coaches CLEARLY made a great effort to develop guys early in the season, however injuries and close games hampered those attempts.

      • Mgthawk

        Totally agree with most of what you said.  But I also think there is a comfort level that KF gets with players, which is understandable, but sometimes works against the development and morale of the team.

        What I mean is this.  There is only one way to be battle and game tested and that’s to get in a game.  As I recall, Coker had some early fumble-itis when he became THE guy last year and then settled in.  Same thing this year,  alot of early fumbles.  It happens.  Don’t like it and you coach to try to prevent it but it happens.  I think a series here or there not only serves to start to develop players for the future but also helps keep morale up as these players then know they are going to get some time.

        I don’t know.  Maybe I’m way off base but it just seems that the numbers provided above show that Coker got worn down and some of that “could” have been aleviated by letting these guys play.  Even if it were on plays where they weren’t going to be really that “involved”.  It would still have given Coker a breather.

  • Topher

    Is Rodney Coe and McCall going to be in Iowa uniforms next year?

  • hern

    Again great coaching -sic,wouldn’t be surprised if at least 2 backs leave the program-why not.

  • hern

    A big 10 team and 1 running back-again great coaching,Ferentz deserves what he gets,6-7 wins.

    • Anonymous

      Coe has another yr of Juco.

      • Topher

        You think he’ll eventually be at Iowa?

      • Hawkeye4ever

        No!! He will be at Iowa next year but not at RB I do not think. He is 260 now maybe TE or Linebacker as he played in High school

        • Mkellen23

          he will only be at iowa if he gets his degree, which the sounds of it, wont happen until after next season. 

  • Topher

    Perhaps Iowa can go after some of the Pitt recruits since their former head coach is bouncing to ASU.

  • Iowa Husker79

    Too bad Coker just left the team. Looks like Ferentz, the most overpaid coach in all of college football, is headed for another 7 win season !

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