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.
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.
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.