Iowa has received subpar production from experienced running backs for much of the season. Now an unknown freshman is providing a spark for the Hawkeyes.
Akrum Wadley turned the first 15 carries of his college career into 106 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's 48-7 victory over Northwestern. It was the first 100-yard rushing game for an Iowa player this season.
With Jordan Canzeri questionable for this weekend's game at Minnesota and LeShun Daniels Jr. out for at least the rest of the regular season, Wadley is listed as a starter alongside Mark Weisman.
"You never know until a guy gets out there, and the jury is hardly out. He's played one game. He's got a long ways to go right now," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "But he's a guy that likes football. He's got a good attitude. He enjoys practice. He enjoys his teammates."
Wadley's emergence was surprising and necessary for the Hawkeyes.
They had somehow become a team that struggled to run the ball.
The presence of Weisman, fellow senior Damon Bullock and Canzeri led to talk that Iowa might be able to control some games on the ground. But the Hawkeyes spent nearly all season looking for a more consistent rushing attack.
It finally came together against Northwestern.
Weisman ran for three TDs in the first half as Iowa jumped ahead 38-7.
With the Hawkeyes in control, they went to Wadley, a 19-year-old Newark, New Jersey native whose only Division I offers were from Iowa and Temple.
Wadley redshirted last season and wasn't expected to play much this season. But he improved to the point where he was the program's scout team player of the week prior to facing Northwestern, and he was named the Big Ten's freshman of the week on Monday.
"I always listen to coach Ferentz in the meetings. He says 'You never know when it's going to be your turn. You've got to step up.' It was my turn to step up that day," Wadley said. "I talked to Weisman and he told me just to take it one rep at a time."
Though Wadley is just 5-foot-11 and 180 pounds, he impressed his teammates by getting many of his yards on the inside runs Iowa relies on.
Wadley also showed a nice array of spin moves and stiff arms once he got past the line of scrimmage.
"He's learned. At first, they always want to go outside and make those cutbacks right away," Weisman said. "He's learned, he's conditioned himself and he's worked on those little details. It's definitely a good thing."
Wadley's debut was further proof that Iowa appears to have a promising future at running back.
Jonathan Parker, another redshirt freshman, has the team's longest rushing touchdown (60 yards) and kickoff return (54). The 230-pound Daniels has shown feature-back potential, though he's been blocked by Weisman for two seasons.
But Weisman and third-down back Damon Bullock are done following this season, and Canzeri will be a senior in 2015.
Wadley has a chance to prove he's ready for significant playing time — provided he gets used to the physicality and the speed of Big Ten play.
"I was very sore. I woke up limping," Wadley said. "My first carry, I thought it was 5 yards. It was 1 yard. And everything was just so fast and like different from practice and scout team. It just was so fast."
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