IOWA CITY — If you think about it, Akrum Wadley has led the league in drama for a few seasons now.
Good and bad drama. First, the fumbles and being careless with the ball. And then the whole thing with adding weight. You can’t leave out the good parts, that being the Hawkeyes’ running back’s flair for big, clutch plays late in games (long TD run for the winning points last year at Minnesota, fourth quarter TD to win at Rutgers, fourth quarter against Iowa State this season, go-ahead TD vs. Penn State this year also in the fourth quarter).
Two years ago at Northwestern (3-3, 1-2 Big Ten), the drama came to Wadley.
Wadley had a 100-yard game against Northwestern as a redshirt freshman in 2014. He began 2015 with a fumble against Illinois State. He didn’t play in the next two games. He carried five times in mop-up against North Texas. He didn’t play the next week against Wisconsin and then had no carries against Illinois.
Northwestern was next and the Hawkeyes (4-2, 1-2) were sailing at 6-0. On his third carry, then-senior running back Jordan Canzeri suffered a high-ankle sprain. LeShun Daniels wasn’t in uniform because of injury.
It was all on Wadley. Then-running backs coach Chris White made that crystal clear.
“I remember Jordan going down and I remember coach White told me this is it,” Wadley said. “If you don’t do well in this game, you might never play here again.
“Like this is it for you. I went in there. He said, ‘No pressure.’ That put the pressure on, and I played a good game.”
Whoa, whoa, whoa.
“I mean, that’s a pretty extreme,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We weren’t going to make him walk home or anything like that, but at some point, it’s like everybody, at some point teams have to do this and players have to do this. You have to show that, 'hey, I’m starting to get this a little bit, and you can count on me,' one of those kinds of things.”
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Wadley came through in every way possible. He put up career highs with 26 carries for 204 yards and four TDs (35, 4, 2, 4).
“I already knew I was built for it, I just had to prove it,” Wadley said. “I worked really hard the weeks before that. I was really confident going in.”
The 204 yards and four TDs remain career highs. Wadley topped the 26 carries with 28 at Iowa State this season.
“It was the first time he looked like he got it,” Ferentz said. “He always showed flashes of ability before that. I guess it must have been ‘14 he had a couple runs at the end, something like that, so he’s always had the ability to slip and slide, but just protecting the football and realizing that’s part of the game, too. And it wasn’t anything intentional or anything he was trying to tick us off, it was just where he was at that point.
“... That was the first day where I think he really understood we needed him because we were pretty much out of options at that point, and I think he got that. He really played like a varsity player that day. It was really a good performance, and boy, did we need it.”
Wadley has a new running backs coach. He’s also the offensive coordinator. He’s also the son of the head coach. Brian Ferentz also has been sewn into Iowa football for most of his life, including 11 seasons as an offensive lineman and coach.
What does Wadley hear from Brian Ferentz, the running backs coach?
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“He’s eager, great guy and I know I’m going to learn a lot,” Wadley said. “He’s always coaching and teaching.
“Something I’ll laugh about when we’re in the meeting room is when he says ‘I don’t want to over-coach this, but ...’ He over-coaches it. Then, he over-coaches it some more and then at the end, ‘I’m not trying to over-coach it.’ That’s funny to me, but he’s taught me a lot.”
Wadley immediately followed that with, of course, he does see the game and watches film much more attentively this season.
Wadley is happy (not satisfied) with his output this year. He’s holding at No. 3 in the Big Ten in yards from scrimmage (123.5 yards per game). His 483 yards is sixth in the league. Wadley also is sixth in the B1G with 20 plays of 10-plus yards, tied for seventh with eight 20-plus yard plays and is fifth with three 40-plus yard plays.
Remember, Wadley considered the NFL draft after last season.
“Showing I have hands out of the backfield, showing I can cut down on mental mistakes, I haven’t made a lot of mental mistakes,” Wadley said. “Just reading different holes and being more explosive and putting more big plays together.”
So, here’s another game at Northwestern. The Wildcats know they were a launchpad for Wadley. Wadley knows that game film is being digested rigorously this week in Evanston, Ill.
“Very excited,” Wadley said. “I know they’re watching that film right now and they’re licking their chops, but same here.”
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