116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
ORLANDO, Fla. — The math didn’t look too favorable for Iowa’s running game ahead of the Citrus Bowl.
The Hawkeyes averaged 3.3 yards per carry heading into the Citrus Bowl. They subtracted top running back Tyler Goodson — or more like he subtracted himself — after he opted out of the game to prepare for the NFL Draft.
But Iowa added a few improvements into that equation for a much-improved rushing attack that gives optimism for Iowa’s offense in 2022.
Someone doesn’t need a math degree from the University of Iowa — although Iowa does have an assistant coach with one — to see how well the math worked out in Saturday’s Citrus Bowl.
Iowa ran for 173 yards at an extremely-efficient 5.8 yards per carry clip against the Wildcats despite Goodson’s absence.
It was the Hawkeyes’ most efficient rushing performance since Iowa’s 2020 win over Minnesota.
Most of that production came from redshirt freshman Gavin Williams, with other contributions from fellow redshirt freshman Leshon Williams and senior Ivory Kelly-Martin.
“As I have indicated for a while, we really have felt good about our depth chart,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Getting Ivory back was a bonus. We weren't counting on that a month ago or even two weeks ago.”
Gavin Williams had 98 yards while averaging 6.1 yards per carry.
Leshon Williams, meanwhile, picked up 42 yards on 10 carries.
Kelly-Martin only had one carry for 12 yards, but had his fingerprint on the rushing success in other ways.
“He’s kind of like our big brother in the room,” Gavin Williams said. “Out on the field, he’s just like another coach because he’s been out there multiple years. He knows how defenses play, what they do."
Each time the Williams running backs return to the sidelines, Kelly-Martin has “little tips” for them.
“’Hey, the backers are playing this way, safeties are coming down,’” Gavin Williams said. “We go back in in the next series, and we can actually use that.”
While Kelly-Martin will be gone, the two Williams running backs have only used one year of eligibility.
“With the combination of me and Leshon, I feel like we can open up the playbook and do a lot of things new,” Gavin Williams said. “I’m excited to see what the future has for us and this offense.”
Before Saturday’s game, Gavin Williams’ career-high day was 56 yards. Leshon’s was 14 yards.
“It gives me and Leshon both confidence that we can do this because we haven’t had a lot of bigger runs,” Gavin Williams said. “It’s a good feeling knowing that all the work that we’re doing in the offseason with the twos, with the threes, the extra work — it is paying off.”
Gavin Williams knows he and Leshon Williams — they are not related — have plenty of work to do.
“It’s a good sight of relief, but this game shows that we still have a lot of work to do,” Gavin Williams said.
Ferentz also pointed to the maturation of the offensive linemen blocking for the Williams duo as part of the reason for Iowa’s rushing success.
Jack Plumb, who started at right tackle, played more snaps in 2021 than in his first three years on campus combined, per Pro Football Focus.
Starting right guard Connor Colby was playing for Cedar Rapids Kennedy last fall, and left tackle Mason Richman went from taking 25 snaps in 2020 to 750 in 2021.
Even left guard Kyler Schott, a senior who missed the first two games because of a hay-baling injury, had a career-high 620 snaps this season, according to PFF.
The blocking was there for more than just the rushing game. Quarterback Spencer Petras was not sacked at all in Saturday’s contest. Iowa’s second touchdown came on a Petras-to-tight-end-Sam-LaPorta screen pass that had excellent blocking.
“I basically got escorted into the end zone,” LaPorta said. “I didn't get touched until I got down there — that's a credit to the big guys hustling down the field.”
Now Williams and Williams can reap the benefits of the offensive line’s progress.
“That helps a running back when the O-line is five yards down the field, and we don’t really have to do much to get five yards,” Gavin Williams said. “Then make a couple guys miss, and then we could break for a long one.”
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