IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Iowa's recent bad luck with running backs has continued this season as LeShun Daniels has struggled with an ankle injury for weeks.
Jordan Canzeri has made the most of his shot to be the starter.
Canzeri, a senior who has spent much of his own career battling injuries, is finally healthy and producing for the unbeaten Hawkeyes (4-0). Canzeri has a team-best 316 yards and eight rushing touchdowns - just one off the national lead - heading into Saturday's Big Ten opener at No. 19 Wisconsin (3-1).
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''He's been a good football player ever since he's been here. He's had some injury issues on and off, that type of thing, but the good thing is this year, including last spring, he's been able to really practice the way he wants to,'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. ''It's been really fun to watch him.''
Canzeri has shown throughout his career that he can make plays. It just seemed like he might never be healthy enough to do so for a full season.
Canzeri got his first start in a bowl game as a freshman in 2011 after starter Marcus Coker was suspended. But Canzeri injured a knee the following spring and was forced to redshirt.
In 2013, Canzeri emerged as a dangerous backup to Mark Weisman, a fullback converted to running back after a slew of injuries and departures. Canzeri rushed for 481 yards, on 6.5 yards per carry, as Iowa went a surprising 8-5.
Canzeri set a career high with 494 yards in 2014. But his yards per carry dipped to 4.8 as he worked through nagging heel and ankle injuries.
Iowa's plan heading into 2015 was to use the 225-pound Daniels as a workhorse-type back and have Canzeri be its third-down, change-of-pace guy.
But Canzeri is on pace for nearly 200 carries, and he has made it difficult for his coaches to dial that back.
Canzeri caught a career-high seven passes and ran for two TDs in a 27-24 win over Pittsburgh on Sept. 19, and last week, he ran for 115 yards and tied the school record with four touchdowns in a 62-16 blowout of North Texas.
''It's interesting, I don't know if you can say somebody has a quiet four touchdowns, but it just seems like it was the other day,'' Ferentz said.
Canzeri, who has also set career bests with 13 catches for 145 yards, deflected much of the credit for his performance to his offensive line and fullbacks. Iowa's blocking has been excellent for much of the season, despite starting two new tackles.
''Everybody on offense is just clicking right now,'' Canzeri said. ''As a running back, when you have ... a line that blocks the way they are, fullbacks that are willing fly in full speed and block a linebacker, it makes it easier to run the ball. Because it's not just us. It's everybody.''
Iowa will likely try to incorporate Daniels into its game plans more as he regains his explosiveness and confidence.
But the emergence of Canzeri as more than just a fill-in has been a bright spot for the Hawkeyes, who can make their claim as the early favorite in the Big Ten West with an upset against the Badgers.
''I talked about our seniors giving us leadership. You can start right there. He's done a great job that way, as well,'' Ferentz said. ''He assumed that carrying the whole load for us, and he's just done a really nice job.''
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