IOWA CITY, Iowa – It looked like the only way Iowa could compensate for losing running back Jewel Hampton was to give the ball to starter Adam Robinson.
Freshmen Brad Rogers and Marcus Coker eased those depth concerns on Saturday.
Rogers and Coker, who both played for the first time, combined for 126 yards rushing on 19 carries in relieving Robinson during a 45-0 win over Ball State. They weren't the only reserves to contribute, with sophomore Keenan Davis catching four passes for 50 yards and a touchdown and junior Mike Daniels notching four tackles for losses.
Big Ten play starts next week when No. 17 Iowa (3-1) hosts No. 22 Penn State. Given the strength of the league, the Hawkeyes are likely going to need their backups to contribute in the next two months.
"Got some of our younger, more inexperienced players some very valuable playing time in that second half," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "That might be as good as anything that happened, outside of getting the win."
Hampton, who'd been splitting carries with Robinson, blew out a knee for the second year in a row in last week's 34-27 loss at Arizona. Hampton's absence made Robinson the featured back in Iowa's offense, and he carried it 19 times for 105 yards in the first half as the Hawkeyes cruised to a 28-0 halftime lead.
Robinson is a physical back who runs into contact, though, and it seemed like the crowd at Kinnick Stadium held its collective breath every time he ended up at the bottom of a pile.
Rogers and Coker gave the Hawkeyes hope that Robinson need not be a one-man show.
Rogers, a 5-foot-10, 215-pound redshirt freshman who was moved to fullback because of his size, returned to running back this week after Hampton's injury. He showed surprising burst in his first appearance, averaging 7.3 yards per carry and breaking off a long run of 18 yards.
"I thought he did some things maybe better than we thought he would have," Ferentz said of Rogers.
So did Coker, a true freshman with a college-ready frame but little experience. Coker, a 6-foot, 230-pounder who'd missed most of fall camp because of an injury, added 60 yards on 10 carries.
"Those guys are a little bit bigger. Not that (Robinson) can't run anybody over, but I think he's a little bit better at being a little bit shifty with his feet. Those guys are going to put their head down and run guys over. So it's a nice change up to have running backs that can do a lot of different things," said quarterback Ricky Stanzi of Rogers and Coker.
Davis was a highly touted recruit who used his redshirt last season but rarely saw the field. He got the nod Saturday when Marvin McNutt left with a leg injury, and followed a nifty 20-yard grab on the sidelines with an 8-yard TD catch from Stanzi.
Davis set career highs with receptions and yards. Even though the numbers weren't gaudy, they were encouraging for a player set to take over for Derrell Johnson-Koulianos next year.
I thought Keenan Davis came alive," Ferentz said. "He's got the potential to be a good player here for us. He has been kind of quiet here the first couple weeks, but it was good to see."
Daniels has had the unenviable task of trying to earn playing time on one of the nation's best defensive lines. But he's played so well this season that the Hawkeyes can't keep him off the field.
Daniels spent much of Saturday in Ball State's backfield, and he ended the Cardinals first foray into Iowa territory with a sack of Kelly Page in the third quarter.
Ferentz compared Daniels to former Hawkeyes standout Mitch King after the game, which is about as high a compliment as a defensive lineman can get at Iowa.
He's our energy guy. That's just his nature," Ferentz said.