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Hawkeyes give their playmaking keys to the kids
Receivers Arland Bruce and Keagan Johnson, and running backs Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams are all sophomores
IOWA CITY — Let there be playmaking!
The typical Iowa football fan wouldn’t mind a deity of any religion decreeing that Hawkeye wide receivers and running backs gain yardage in swaths this season, certainly in larger chunks than last year.
The Hawkeyes had just 48 plays of 20-plus yards last season. Only a few teams in the nation averaged fewer per game.
Both Penn and Teller would admire how Iowa magically squeezed out 10 wins last season with the 121st-ranked offense in the nation, a unit that averaged just 6.2 yards per pass attempt and 3.4 yards per rush.
That won’t work again. OK, it theoretically could. But it won’t. You know it, I know it, Kirk and Brian Ferentz know it, Cousin Kenny Ferentz knows it. Quarterback Spencer Petras knows it.
“I don’t think there’s any reason we can’t be a great unit and do a great job,” Petras said Tuesday.
It must start with Petras, or whomever replaces him should he falter. It also must start with the offensive line, which showed clear progress in the Citrus Bowl after a mundane performance in the regular season and a dismal one in the Big Ten championship game.
But you’ve got to have playmakers. Tight end Sam LaPorta is money in the bank. Now we’ll see how running backs Gavin Williams and Leshon Williams and wide receivers Arland Bruce IV and Keagan Johnson handle being The Men.
All are sophomores. All, to varying degrees based on playing time, stepped in last season and got results. Bruce started Iowa’s last four games. He had 25 catches, and rushed 10 times for 69 yards and three touchdowns.
When Tyler Goodson opted out of the Citrus Bowl, Gavin Williams moved up to No. 1 RB and had 16 carries for 98 yards against Kentucky. That was 6.1 yards per carry, much more like what Iowa needs from that position.
“You guys saw it in the bowl game,” Bruce said about Williams. “He’s not scared of anything. He’s going to fall and get those extra yards, put his shoulder and head down. If he’s got to put his body on the line, that’s what he’s going to do. Same with Leshon.”
Gavin Williams volleyed compliments back to Bruce, saying “I feel Arland’s going to be great. The attention to detail he brings, the way he motivates the other receivers, especially those young guys to kind of get them up to speed.”
Bruce and Williams struck me as levelheaded and analytical in interview sessions Tuesday. They frequently mention phrases like the aforementioned “attention to detail.”
“I feel like the details are the little things that will help you win or get you beat,” Williams said. “I’m a firm believer in the fundamentals, that you have to be great at fundamentals and those little things.”
He spoke of picking up pass protection, reading the right holes, “the things that can separate you from a good player and a great player.”
Leshon Williams carried the ball just 11 times entering the Citrus Bowl, but had 10 rushes for 42 yards in Orlando. It isn’t, however, as if he’ll be a change-of-pace back coming off the sideline. The Williams have similar builds and running styles.
“I feel like we’re very similar in the way we approach things,” Gavin Williams said. “We’re very detail-oriented.”
“I think both of them are very, very capable,” Kirk Ferentz said.
Williams and Williams may cause slight confusion for broadcasters, sports writers, and maybe fans. The Hawkeyes just want a Williams or two to keep the down markers moving.
That goes for the receivers, too. Seldom have Ferentz’s Iowa clubs leaned so much on young players at that position.
“I know the offense specifically as a whole has a lot to prove,” said Bruce. “We’re just hoping to prove a lot of those doubters and haters wrong.”
I asked Gavin to name his favorite Williams in football. There have been a few. His answer: “I’d say myself. You’ve got to bet on yourself, right?”
You may remember a Texas Heisman Trophy-winning running back named Ricky Williams who was mighty good in the NFL, too. Gavin Williams said he doesn’t.
These guys are young, folks.
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