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IOWA CITY — Akrum Wadley wants the ball. Iowa needs him to touch the ball. The first two games have been a bonanza that way.
In week 1 against Wyoming, Wadley gained 116 yards on 24 carries, more carries than he had in any game last season and the second most of his career. Last week, Wadley gained 118 yards on a career-high 28 carries.
Maybe the bonanza throttles down this week when the Hawkeyes (2-0) play host to North Texas (1-1).
“Yeah, first week wasn’t that bad,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Saturday (against Iowa State) is probably a little heavier than we like, but we’ll try to balance that out a little bit, and there’s no reason we can’t. We’ve got other guys that are doing a really good job. So, we’ve got to watch that a little bit.”
You certainly noticed last week that Wadley was replaced on kick return by freshman running back Ivory Kelly-Martin. That’s part of watching that a little bit.
After Wyoming, Wadley admitted to some soreness. In the wake of the Hawkeyes’ 44-41 overtime victory in Ames, no mention of soreness. That 46-yard catch-and-run on which Wadley tied the game with 1:09 left is probably much better than any ice bath.
But what does this much work for Wadley really say? Remember, Wadley went two games in 2015 with no carries because of a fumble in the opener. It’s pretty clear what Wadley’s workload says.
“They’ve got a lot of trust in me,” Wadley said.
That is crystal clear.
It’s only two weeks, but Wadley does lead the Big Ten in “touches” from scrimmage (carries and receptions) with 56, just one ahead of Minnesota running back Rodney Smith. Wadley trails Smith for the conference lead in carries by one (53 to 52). In touches for all-purpose yards (rushes, receptions and returns), Wadley leads the conference with 60 and he’s No. 2 in the league with 203.0 all-purpose yards in Iowa’s first two games.
You don’t get the ball if you don’t produce. In the closing minutes against Wyoming, Iowa needed to drain the last 4 1/2 minutes off the clock. Wadley carried five consecutive times, Iowa got a first down and Wyoming didn’t see another possession.
Against Iowa State last week, the Hawkeyes trailed 38-31 with less than two minutes left. Quarterback Nate Stanley checked down to Wadley on the 46-yard TD. Wadley showed speed, elusiveness, patience and muscle, running away from linebackers, finding the sideline, making a cut off a block from wide receiver Nick Easley before powering through a pair of defenders and over the goal line.
“It’s just special,” Stanley said. “You can’t help but say wow sometimes. He’s just a great athlete, great player, great person. When he does something special like that, it makes you kind of want to drop your jaw, but he does it daily. He’s just a special player.”
Iowa coaches want to keep him special. So, kick returns have been edited out, at least for now. Of course, Wadley still wants that job.
“You get in a game like that (the Iowa State game) and you have to do whatever you’ve got to do, and he wasn’t complaining,” Ferentz said. “I didn’t hear him say one word about it.
“He wants to carry the ball and he wants to catch it, and he wants to help the team, but we have to, as adults, we have to see the big picture here and be smart about things.”
Wadley didn’t return kicks in 2015 or 2016. He also wasn’t the primary back in 2015 and so he ended that season with 89 touches (83 carries, six receptions). Last season, Wadley shared the running back role with LeShun Daniels and carried 168 times along with 36 receptions (204 total touches).
With 52 carries, four receptions and four kick returns, Wadley is up to 60 touches this season.
This isn’t breaking news, but you’re going to see more carries for the other running backs in the coming weeks. Iowa brought in senior James Butler as a graduate transfer this summer. Butler has seen 20 carries (for 84 yards) in the first two games. Ferentz was asked about Toren Young, a 220-pound redshirt freshman, this week.
“I said something the other day I wanted him to make sure that we knew he’s really been practicing really well,” Ferentz said. “It just hasn’t worked out to get him in there, but we will at some point. This is a good situation right now. If James Butler weren’t on the team, he’d be getting a lot more work, but we’ll get there at some point. We’ve got a lot more football in front of us and he’s going to help us.”
Wadley knows the other running backs will get theirs. He’s totally cool with this.
“James had an explosive play last week,” Wadley said. “He caught one out of the backfield, broke like two or three tackles. He went beast mode. He needs to play more and we’re going to make that happen.”
There’s also the fact that Wadley weighs in between 190 and 195. In the discussion on Wadley and kick return, Ferentz said he doesn’t believe in “pitch counts” for players, but he must be listening to someone or Wadley probably still would be returning kicks.
Wadley wore a white wrap on his knee during interviews Tuesday. No biggie, he said. He did have knee surgery in January, but all is well.
“That’s for fashion,” he said. “I’m fine.”
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