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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — This Iowa getting into a spread formation and making things happen in the running game is starting to be a big deal for the Iowa offense.
Last week at Minnesota, the Hawkeyes lined up three receivers to the wide side of the field and then ran a quick-hitting play that running back Akrum Wadley took 54 yards for a TD. That was Iowa's longest play of the season until Wadley erased that in Saturday’s 49-35 victory at Purdue.
From a shotgun formation, Wadley took a handoff from quarterback C.J. Beathard, followed brilliant blocks by tight end Peter Pekar, center James Daniels, guard Sean Welsh and wide receiver Jay Scheel, and went 75 yards for a 35-7 halftime lead.
The play immediately answered a Purdue TD, coming on the first snap of the ensuing possession. The cool, fun part of it for the Hawkeyes was the fact that it was an explosive run from the shotgun formation.
Those have been a struggle for Iowa. Those have been a point of emphasis in practice.
“It was a gun run, we worked on it in practice,” Beathard said. “They gave us the right look. Pete came in and cracked the nose guard and Akrum did a good job doing the rest, making a big play at a big point in the game.”
“Gun run,” it’s kind of fun to say. Iowa players said it a lot in the postgame.
“That’s shotgun runs,” said Wadley, whose 75-yarder is now Iowa’s longest play from scrimmage this year and the longest of his career. “We’ve been working on shotgun runs in practice, because we’ve got to get better with those. We did a few of them shotgun runs in practice and it was the right call at the right time of the game.”
Wadley had at least one other explosive run out of the shotgun (a 12-yarder). Overall against Purdue, it was the dot on the “i.” Everything the Hawkeyes ran in the running game worked, finishing with 365 yards on 53 carries (6.9 yards per carry).
Wadley finished with 170 yards on 14 carries. Senior running back LeShun Daniels finished with 156 yards and two TDs on 24 carries. This was the first time since 2008 that Iowa has had a pair of 100-yard rushers in a game (Shonn Greene and Jewel Hampton vs. Indiana).
“We feed off each other’s energy all of the time,” said Daniels, who had a 67-yard carry in the third quarter that was the longest of his career. “The way we complemented each other today was excellent for us as a team. With us complementing each other so well right now, that’s something we have to continue to build on.”
Still, the Hawkeyes seemed awfully pleased the “gun runs” hit.
“We always have gun runs in the playbook, but the way the offense is built, we’d rather run the ball from under center, that’s just the way we do things,” Beathard said. “At certain times, we will run the ball out of the gun.”
The big question on unleashing that play is timing. This came on a first down, so the defense was caught off guard.
“We’re going to try to mix that stuff in,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “When’s a good time? Akrum just did a great job on finishing it and Jay Scheel gave him a chance to make it a big play instead of a nice gain.”
Now it’s on video, Iowa running the ball successfully out of shotgun. It’s probably not something the Hawkeyes want to make a living out of, but it’s another element that might keep a defense on its heels.
And it worked Saturday against one of the worst defenses in the Big Ten. Beathard cautioned his thoughts with “It doesn’t always work.” It doesn’t, but at least now Iowa is showing it can work.
“If it’s a second-and-long situation, we will pass there,” Beathard said. “They have to be prepared for us to throw there and also stop the run.”
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