IOWA CITY — Yes, he has heard from people back home this week.
“Teachers, old football coaches, friends, family,” Toren Young said. “Some of them tell me they are rooting for me, but they hope for a different outcome than what I want. That’s all right, it’s OK. I respect it.”
Young is listed as Iowa’s starting running back for its huge Big Ten conference opener Saturday night against Wisconsin at Kinnick Stadium. The sophomore is from Madison, prepped at Monona Grove High School.
He seems like a low-key guy, kind of chill, so you didn’t really expect him to say a whole lot about the significance of this game for him from a personal standpoint. But you’ve got to know he’d love to really stick it to his home-state school.
Especially since it never offered him a scholarship.
“I watched a good amount of Badgers games as a kid,” Young said. “It is exciting. I grew up not too far from campus. Just watching the Badgers and being around it, it’s definitely something that is exciting for me to be able to be at this level competing and being able to play against them.”
Pretty PC stuff, right?
Young and company hope to build off last week’s rushing performance. Iowa had 207 yards on the ground in a 38-14 win over Northern Iowa, part of a 545-yard day offensively.
The Hawkeyes have had their fits and starts in the running game in the early part of the season, decent games against UNI and Northern Illinois and a poor one against Iowa State. They rank 11th in the Big Ten in rushing and 12th in yards per carry. Those are way early numbers and not overly significant, but Iowa needs to be better. It needs to be way better against Wisconsin’s gap-sound, 3-4 defense than it was last season.
The Hawks managed just 25 yards rushing and 66 yards overall in a 38-14 loss at Camp Randall Stadium. An awful performance.
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“Big thing last year, we clearly failed the test last year,” said Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz. "We couldn’t sustain anything, we couldn’t make anything go. Part of that was them, a big part of it was us, too. We had a hand in it, too. The challenge is what can we do better. They’re going to play well. How do we better execute? How do we better get into things that we’ll maybe have some success with? It’s a tough challenge.”
Iowa has had a different starting lineup at running back and in the offensive line its first three games because of injury and suspension. That does not help in building offensive cohesion.
Ivory Kelly-Martin was the starter at RB in the season opener but injured an ankle and missed the next two games. He is expected to return Saturday.
Tackles Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs sat out Game 1 because of suspension but started against Iowa State and Northern Iowa. However, right guard Cole Banwart missed last week because of injury.
Everyone appears to be in line to play against Wisconsin. In the backfield, you’ve got a true banger in Young, a small and shifty guy in Mekhi Sargent and sort of a combination of the two in Kelly-Martin.
“There has been a lot of different rotations and things like that,” Young said. “We’ve all just embraced it. It is something that I think is good for us, because we can give different looks, (put) different personnel in there. There are guys who can help us better in different situations than others. Just having that ability to put different guys in there in different situations, I think, can be an advantage for us.”
“Last week was a little better for us than Iowa State,” said Iowa center Keegan Render. “As far as execution wise and MAs (missed assignments) in the run game, I think we can still get better. Come off the ball and just trust our fundamentals. Not thinking as much. Just come off and trust that we’ve going to make the right read, do the right thing.”
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