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Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — For a while, the symmetry was perfect.
Iowa’s first-team offense was removed from the game early in the fourth quarter Saturday at Ross-Ade Stadium with the Hawkeyes leading Purdue, 42-14. Running backs LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley were sitting on 584 yards apiece this season.
They have been interchangeable, and both have performed like The Man. That they were tied in yardage was so appropriate.
But Purdue got a couple touchdowns against Iowa’s second-team defense to cut its deficit to 42-28 with 5:36 left, and the Hawkeyes’ No. 1 units on both sides of the ball were called back to duty.
Daniels gained 11 more yards and Wadley two as Iowa salted away a 49-35 victory, so the senior is nine up on the junior.
Wadley had 170 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown sprint late in the first half that pushed the Hawkeyes’ lead to 35-7.
Daniels had 156 yards. Twenty-eight came on Iowa’s first offensive play. That was an immediate tone-setter, and the tone was domination. The Hawkeyes had a day on the ground unlike any the program had enjoyed since 2002.
“Really pleased anytime you’ve got two guys over 100 yards,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That’s a good sign.”
If 2 X 100 is a good sign, 2 X 150 is 50 percent better than good. Which aptly describes Daniels and Wadley so far this season. Other descriptions of the pair have needed alterations.
Power guy Daniels has been Wadley-esque in cutting around corners and taking off in open space. Speed guy Wadley has been Daniels-like in running between the tackles and waiting on blockers to open lanes.
Foes can’t be blamed for not always identifying which of the two is in the game. Even Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard isn’t always sure.
“Depending on certain plays, then I know,” Beathard said. “But not all the time. … Akrum and LeShun do a great job turning those 8-yard runs into big plays.”
Wadley has 31 fewer carries than Daniels this year and had 14 totes to Daniels’ 24 Saturday. Wadley averages 7.4 yards per rush, Daniels 5.4. But Daniels gets nearly all the carries in short-yardage situations. Both have been big-gain guys over and over.
“We both know at any point in time we can do whatever is called upon us,” Daniels said. “We also know we’re not just one-dimensional or anything like that.”
They also are quick to make sure you hear them insist their blockers are responsible for the spinning of their yard-o-meters.
“The offensive line did a great job,” Wadley said. “They went out there and did what Iowa’s known for, bully football. They went out there and pushed a few jokers around.”
“You’ve just got to give plenty of credit to the offensive linemen,” said Daniels, though what choice does he have? His younger and bigger brother, sophomore James Daniels, is Iowa’s center.
If the two running backs have a rivalry, it’s nothing but friendly.
“At the beginning of the season,” Wadley said, “all we could talk about was both of us rushing for at least 100 yards apiece, and I believe this is the first game I had at least 100 and he had 100. We’re both proud of each other.”
If they stay on their current pace and Iowa has a 13th game, both will eclipse 1,000 yards. Iowa hasn’t had one player do that since Marcus Coker in 2011.
“If we keep running the ball and our line keeps doing what they’re doing, it’s definitely possible,” Wadley said.
“If we happen to both top 1,000 yards, so be it,” Daniels said. “It would be a great thing for us. It means most likely we’re doing something good as a team.”
Ferentz, as coaches will, said Iowa’s 365 rushing yards Saturday “means a lot of people are helping out.”
And, as coaches will, he left a little more for his junior to strive for than his senior.
“Akrum ... I’m going to give him a hug and a smile and say really nice things about him when he gets over 190 (pounds). I’ll be singing his praises. He’s not there yet. But he’s doing a good job.”
Wadley and Daniels are both getting fed. The only thing Purdue’s defenders ate Saturday was the duo’s dust.