Iowa Football

Iowa's running back by committee approach is working just fine

Mekhi Sargent, Toren Young, Tyler Goodson, Ivory Kelly-Martin all getting carries

Iowa Hawkeyes running back Ivory Kelly-Martin (21) tries to get away from Iowa State Cyclones defensive back Greg Eisworth (12) during the third quarter of their college football game at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. Iowa won 18-17. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Iowa Hawkeyes running back Ivory Kelly-Martin (21) tries to get away from Iowa State Cyclones defensive back Greg Eisworth (12) during the third quarter of their college football game at Jack Trice Stadium in Ames, Iowa on Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019. Iowa won 18-17. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — For the zillions who play fantasy football each season, they are dirty words. For the Iowa Hawkeyes, they’re a winning formula.

Running back by committee. Hate it or love it.

There aren’t many, if any, college or pro teams out there rotating four guys at the position. But that’s what Iowa has done effectively the first three games this season and has promised to do the rest of the way.

That’s health of the quartet permitting, of course.

“The trick is to figure out how to get them in and out of the game,” said Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz. “Right now, offensively, and I think it’s true defensively, too, I don’t think anybody is counting plays. They are just playing. That’s all we are asking them to do, is go in there and do what they can do. And I think we’re pleased with what we’re seeing so far.”

Mekhi Sargent has seen the most work with 40 carries and nine catches. Toren Young is the power dude, with 22 carries.

True freshman Tyler Goodson is the high-upside dude, also with 22 carries. Ivory Kelly-Martin was the opening-game starter last season but got in for only one play in the season opener this year against Miami (Ohio).

He ended up getting Iowa’s first carry in the Iowa State game two weeks ago, as he has seen his workload gradually increase.

“My mindset going into the first game was, obviously, win,” Kelly-Martin said. “I wasn’t sure how many reps I was going to get. But either way, I was happy with the win. There are no complaints coming from me. I’m here to help the team as much as I can possibly can.”

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That seems to be the thing about the foursome. At least publicly, no one is complaining about not being “the guy.”

It’s about the team’s success.

“Coach does a good job of rotating us, making sure we get the reps in practice,” Sargent said. “It keeps us engaged. Then game time, you never know when your number is going to be called. All of us have been doing a really good job with the committee and just feeding off one another.”

Iowa’s backs have combined for 519 yards rushing in three games, with three touchdowns. The yards-per-carry average is 4.4.

You’ll likely see a heavy dose of the rush Saturday against Middle Tennessee. The Blue Raiders (1-2) have allowed over 200 yards on the ground to each of their opponents thus far.

Now who will see the most touches?

“It’s really rare, and they are all a little different, as you know,” Ferentz said. “Take Goodson out of the equation, the other three guys are players we know pretty well. They have been here now, (this is the) second year where they have all been prominent ... All three of the backs, you talk about Mekhi or Ivory or Toren are all better players than they were last season and certainly give us a little (different) dimension. It’s a little bit unique.”

“I feel like we’ve done a really good job,” Sargent said. “Just capitalizing off of last year and just keeping it going off the last couple of games of last year. It’s still early in the season, and there’s going to be a lot more improvement.”

The versatility of the backs allows Iowa to go with more offensive packages.

As mentioned, Young is more of a power runner that works well in short-yardage and goal-line situations. That’s not saying the other guys can’t work in those, too.

Iowa’s backs have been threats in the passing game as well, with a combined 18 catches. That comes out to six catches per game.

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“We have a lot of dynamic guys back there now, so we’re just able to do a lot more,” Kelly-Martin said. “A lot more catching passes out of the backfield, whether that’s sliding out into the slot or just running (routes) out of the home position. We’re able to stretch out the field, get some one-on-one matchups that we (think are favorable).

“Whether it’s someone else coming in, or whether it’s me coming in, we all have our own times and certain plays or whatever ... We’re all still competing, and that competition just makes you better.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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