Three cool things:
1. I don’t know how things work anymore, but you know this was a big game in the 12-0 2015 season.
It also was going into a bye week. After this one, the Hawkeyes were 7-0 and something cool was happening.
So, the next week, I got a call from Iowa sports info asking if I wanted to set up a one-on-one with Kirk Ferentz. Yeah, you bet. Let’s do that.
Relief poured out of Ferentz after this game.
Northwestern was the No. 21 team in the country in its homecoming game at a stadium in which the Hawkeyes hadn’t won since 2007 and were just 2-4 since Ferentz took over as head coach in 1999.
That wasn’t enough degree of difficulty for the Hawkeyes. They also were down to their third and fourth starters at offensive tackle. A redshirt freshman took over a defensive end spot once held by a senior stalwart who suffered a season-ending knee injury the week before. Late in the first quarter, Iowa’s No. 1 running back suffered an ankle injury — the same running back who carried a school-record 43 times for 256 yards and two touchdowns in a nine-point victory the week before.
Oh yeah, and Iowa’s quarterback was nursing leg injuries and had to be selective in what he tried to do with running the football.
Ferentz wouldn’t have taken a 1-0 forfeit victory and ...
“ ... I’m being totally candid,” Ferentz said. “Last weekend, I would’ve taken a one-point (win). Is it 1-0 or 2-0 with a forfeit in football? I would’ve signed up for that so fast and gotten out of there.”
Suddenly, Iowa was hot again and the media crush started immediately thereafter, with 10 or 12 phone calls for radio interview requests. These were national radio interviews, radio shows that hadn’t called since ...
“ ... Since we were sexy the last time,” Ferentz said.
This is where Ferentz, who began his 17th season as Iowa’s head coach with “hot seat” talk, might surprise you. Oh yes, the battening down has started, but he basically told his team after Northwestern “dare to dream.”
“I told the guys Sunday, take a couple of days and think big,” Ferentz said. “That’s OK, that’s healthy. You have to dream in life. It’s OK to have vision.
“We expanded the 24-hour rule and told them to think big. The other part was enjoy this a little bit. You guys have worked your tails off. For us to be 7-0 right now, a lot of things are happening. Special things going on, special efforts. A lot of good stuff. I said, enjoy that, feel good about it, you’ve earned that. Fortunately, we don’t play this week, so maybe we have a little time to wiggle on all of that stuff.”
This game set a lot of what 2015 became into motion. And I think if Ferentz were being totally candid, he’d put this one in his personal top five.
2. This was the Akrum Wadley game. It totally was.
3. I also kind of feel like this was a Sean Welsh game.
We didn’t know why he didn’t participate in spring practice of 2015. Welsh later revealed his struggles with depression. It felt like he wanted to get something off his chest here.
“It’s been a long road from the spring,” the sophomore from Springboro, Ohio, said with a bit of a catch in his voice. “Every time we win a game, I think of not being with the team in the spring. It was a tough time, but right now ... any good feeling I have it’s just being a part of a great group of people.”
That statement in recent context has real meaning.
Welsh slid out to right tackle in this game and didn’t miss a step. Seriously, the transition was seamless and Welsh carried the flag in the running game this day.
This was seven games into 2015, and the Hawkeyes had already had five players switch in at tackle. Left tackle Boone Myers (neck/shoulder stinger) missed at least three Big Ten games. Right tackle Ike Boettger had a high-ankle sprain against Illinois the week before this one. Junior Cole Croston made his first career start at Wisconsin.
Iowa began that season with two tackles with one career start. Just like that, due to injury, it suddenly had four with 14. And don’t forget, true freshman James Daniels, who took Welsh’s spot at left guard, played nearly a half at right tackle against Illinois.
Was that a good problem?
“It is, it’s all good,” Kirk Ferentz said. “I’d like to tell you I saw it coming, but you do what you have to do. The players responded in a positive way. That’s one of the good things about injuries. We have a lot more faith and confidence in a lot of guys. We’ll find things to correct tomorrow, don’t get me wrong, but there were a lot of positive things out of this effort.”
I wasn’t surprised Sean retired from football after the NFL combine. Whatever he does in life, he’ll win. I do hope he stays in the game. I’ve said a couple of times in this series how much I love football. The game is better with people like Sean in it.
Someone like Sean would have great thoughts on preserving the game. That’s something I want to start bringing discussion to.
Quote: Ferentz loved this team. Even before it was 12-0.
“Needless to say, this is a really resilient bunch of guys we are coaching right now. It seems like whatever we throw at them or whatever comes their way — good, bad or indifferent — they seem to respond in a really positive way. How good we are, I have no idea, but I do know this, this team plays extremely hard and it has a lot of guts.” — Kirk Ferentz
Note: Desmond King picked off pass No. 6 in this one. During 2015, you kept thinking, why are offensive coordinators still trying to do that? And then last year with Josh Jackson, why were offensive coordinators still trying that?
Why No. 41? — This one was a big, big piece to the 2015 puzzle.
PREVIOUS COVERAGE OF THE GAME
Game story from 2015
EVANSTON, Ill., — The Iowa players did interviews outside of their locker room Saturday at Ryan Field. There was a pretty horrific smell coming from a nearby dumpster. The exterior ranked somewhere between low-security detention center and alley.
Akrum Wadley was in another world. He didn’t smell, see or care what Northwestern had in front of him.
He leaned into cameras and notebooks. He smiled. The next few minutes were an exercise in not spontaneously combusting.
“Beginning of the season, my weight was going up and down,” Wadley said, raising his hands for graphic illustration. “Then, the fumble against Illinois State, that put me down.
“It’s all about trust.”
The No. 17 Hawkeyes have needed a lot of help getting to 7-0 (3-0 Big Ten). Redo has been the standing field order for the offense the last seven weeks. Both starting offensive tackles out? Quarterback limping around like the hip replacement didn’t quite take? Another day, another running back with a high-ankle sprain?
It’s almost like the deeper the Hawkeyes have to reach to find a player to plug in, the more powerful they get. It’s almost really like the Hawkeyes are a big ol’ circle of trust right now that’s rolling.
Wadley put up career highs with 26 carries for 204 yards and four TDs (35, 4, 2, 4) in the Hawkeyes’ 40-10 victory over Northwestern (5-2, 1-2) before 44,135 Saturday at Ryan Field.
Big ol’ circle of trust. It’s rolling.
“Needless to say, this is a really resilient bunch of guys we are coaching right now,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “It seems like whatever we throw at them or whatever comes their way — good, bad or indifferent — they seem to respond in a really positive way.
“How good we are, I have no idea, but I do know this, this team plays extremely hard and it has a lot of guts.”
On his third carry after senior Jordan Canzeri left the game with a high-ankle sprain, Wadley burst 35 yards untouched for a touchdown, the first of his four TDs.
“It’s all about trust,” Wadley said. “I’ve been grinding and holding the ball tight. I didn’t fumble today and haven’t fumbled lately. It’s a trust thing. I gained some trust today, there’s one in the bank. I’m just trying to keep up, keep it up, huge momentum boost.”
You saw true freshman offensive lineman James Daniels enter the circle of trust last week, jumping out to play tackle for the first time after Ike Boettger was injured. Daniels started at left guard and left guard Sean Welsh switched out to right tackle.
So, the running back with fumble problems ran the ball behind an O-line down both of its starting tackles and a true freshman at one of the guards.
This didn’t really pair well with the quarterback who could barely move. C.J. Beathard didn’t practice all week, but he showed up Saturday and sort of massaged Iowa’s offense along, completing 15 of 25 for 176 yards with an interception. Battling an array of leg injuries (hip and groin), Beathard conducted an offense that put out 492 yards (a season-high 294 on the ground, with sophomore Derrick Mitchell kicking in 79 yards and a TD), compared to just 198 for Northwestern (Iowa’s 6.3 yards per play over NU’s 2.9 is a win 10 out of 10 times).
But you know none of this is possible without the defense Iowa is putting on the field week after week. This week, it held NU running back Justin Jackson to 30 yards on 10 carries (he averaged 110.2 coming in), it held the Wildcats to 51 rushing yards (it averaged 213.7 coming in) and it held down the NU offense and gave it noogies in the second half, holding the Cats scoreless and to 80 yards on 29 plays (2.75 yards per play).
“If we stop them from scoring, they can’t win,” said cornerback Desmond King, who picked off his sixth pass this season. “The game depends on us. The offense will feed off us. If we stop them from scoring, there’s nothing else they can do.”
Iowa goes into a bye week before it plays host to Maryland (2-4, 0-2) on Oct. 31. It obviously has some healing to do, most specifically Beathard.
So, to the healing power of the cold tubs.
Akrum Wadley feature from 2017
From duct tape to clutch performer
IOWA CITY — Akrum Wadley always was going to be freestyle.
When you’re 8 years old and somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 pounds and determined to knock on and/or knock down doors in football, that’s how it’s got to be.
“They had to put duct tape on him because he was so skinny,” said John Wadley, Akrum’s dad and a retired corrections officer in Willingboro, N.J. “We had to duct tape the uniform every game. Every game.”
They had to duct tape his uniform.
“I was little,” Akrum said. “I used to have to tape my pants up so they would stay up. Those were the days.”
These were the junior Pee Wee Pop Warner football days. Once Akrum got snug with the duct tape, defenses were reaching for something with adhesive to hold Wadley in place.
Duct tape. Nets. Dynamite. Choppers. Defenses still are looking to keep Wadley down.
The fun question here is when did you know it? When did you know Akrum Wadley would work?
“All I remember was a bolt of lightning,” Weequahic head football coach Brian Logan said. “A guy creating like, you know, like he had God-given talent.”
You’re not going to believe this, but in those Pop Warner Panthers duct-tape days, Wadley started as an offensive lineman.
“My mother and father went nuts,” Wadley said. “‘He’s not this and that.’ And then when they moved me to running back, my first carry was a touchdown.”
Of course, Wadley’s gear fits now. The Iowa senior running back goes into Saturday’s game against No. 6 Ohio State (7-1, 5-0) sixth in the Big Ten in rushing. Yards from scrimmage (yards rushing and receiving) probably does a better job of showing how much Wadley means to this offense. He sits fourth in the league with 113.9 yards a game.
Some other “did you knows” with Wadley’s career:
— Since he first stepped on the field in 2014, Wadley has split or shared time with as many as six other running backs (Mark Weisman, Jordan Canzeri, LeShun Daniels, Derrick Mitchell Jr., Damon Bullock and Jonathan Parker).
Despite the time share, Wadley has 30 career touchdowns. He’s two TDs from moving into the top five on Iowa’s career TD list. The dudes he’d tie with two more? These guys: Tim Dwight and Ronnie Harmon. You don’t even need Google for them.
— This would probably make for great debate, but has any Hawkeye skill player been as clutch as Wadley? OK, quarterback Nate Stanley was supremely clutch in the Hawkeyes’ 44-41 overtime victory over Iowa State this year. But who was Stanley throwing to?
Wadley scored on a 46-yard pass to tie the game, 38-38, with 1:09 left. There was the big breakout in 2015 against Northwestern, when Iowa’s O-line, battered and injured, summoned a massive effort that helped Wadley deliver a 204-yard, four-TD performance.
Last season, Wadley finished Rutgers with a 26-yard run in the fourth quarter of a 14-7 victory. Two weeks later, Wadley knocked out Minnesota with a 54-yard run in the fourth quarter in another 14-7 win.
— Wadley has 2,406 rushing yards in his Iowa career. This season, he’s passed Harmon and Shonn Greene (2008 Doak Walker Award winner). Next on the list are Owen Gill, Tony Stewart and Weisman.
Pretty good for a kid who probably should’ve been a basketball player.
Sharonda Phelps is a physical education teacher at Cleveland Elementary in Newark. She coaches basketball in the district and was a great basketball player herself in high school. Naturally, basketball was a thing with Akrum.
Then, one day, Akrum was hanging out at his high school.
“Before practice, I was chilling with my girl,” he said, setting the scene.
His high school didn’t have football, so the kids who were interested hopped in a van and trucked over to Weequahic. Coaches drove the van. Logan saw Wadley and just kind of threw football out there.
“They said, ‘Why don’t you just come through? Come and give it a try,’” Wadley said. “I said, ‘All right, let’s do it.’”
There was some sweet talking.
“He was a basketball guy with a football heart,” Logan said.
Wadley stuck it out. As a senior, he rushed 105 times for 1,548 yards and 25 touchdowns (school record).
“We all had a little bit to do with this,” Logan said. “We all just wanted to make a good kid, man. That’s what we aim to do.”
Wadley will graduate this spring with a degree in sports and recreation. The degree is a huge deal.
“Every semester for me, for me, is hard in college,” he said. “I don’t really like school like that. Not one semester was easy for me.”
Huge deal, the degree.
“His college degree means the world to me,” Phelps said. “It means he has a blank check and now he has to decide the amount on the check by putting it to use.
“His degree allows him to be a role model, and a productive citizen.”
“Role model” means something. Akrum, 22, is the second of four brothers. Patrick, 26, is the oldest. Then, there’s Donovan, 14, who was named after Donovan McNabb. There also are twins, Trevor and Blake, 12, who got their names because they sound like characters in a soap opera, Phelps said.
Things are starting to take off for Donovan.
“He’s different,” Akrum said. “He’s a little bit better than I was.”
Wadley’s size always was a thing. Even now at 5-foot-11, 190-ish, it’s still a thing. Everyone could see it was going to be a thing when Wadley started riding this football wave.
“He had a big heart and didn’t care about how big a guy was, he used to laugh,” John Wadley said. “He still laughs. Everyone is big, but not everyone has the heart. That’s just how he is.”