It’s OK to look for differentiators among Iowa’s four running backs. It probably doesn’t mean a whole lot is going to change, but it’s certainly fine to have opinions on who you want to be doing what.
The easy conclusion coming out of No. 17 Iowa’s loss at No. 16 Michigan is that true freshman running back Tyler Goodson needs more touches.
He rushed six times for just 15 yards, but he also caught five passes for 62 yards, including an over-the-shoulder ball from quarterback Nate Stanley for a 31-yard gain in the fourth quarter, when the Hawkeyes (4-1, 1-1 Big Ten) were looking for a spark.
Iowa had seven “chunk” pass plays last Saturday. Goodson was on the receiving end of two. The 5-10, 190-pounder delivered some spark, and for an offense that rushed for just 1 yard after 65 yards of sacks were subtracted, Goodson put in a plus-effort.
“He’s been in our plans,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said in the postgame. “We’ve been trying to bring him along. We threw him in that first game when the game was on the line, so he earned our trust back in August.
“And every time you see him play, he’s got good ability, but I’m more impressed with the way he plays and how he acts like he belongs.”
Goodson showed up on the depth chart for the first time on Monday. He was listed as No. 3 behind juniors Toren Young and Mekhi Sargent, replacing junior Ivory Kelly-Martin, who didn’t play at Michigan.
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It’s worth noting that Kelly-Martin has now played four games this season. One more and he isn’t eligible for a redshirt. No, there are no answers on this now, but it’s something that could come up during Ferentz’s news conference Tuesday.
It’s also worth noting that Goodson has now played five games and is no longer eligible for a redshirt in 2019.
Can Iowa commit to a true freshman running back being “the guy?” Probably not. Young and Sargent have shown their value, and you really can’t make any hard, fast decisions coming out of a game at Michigan where Goodson and Sargent averaged 2.5 and 1.7 yards per carry, respectively. Young turned in an average 5.0 yards on eight carries, mostly on the strength of a 15-yard carry (Iowa’s only explosive run vs. the Wolverines).
The running game was shut down. That’s a unit thing, not an individual thing. It’s certainly something Iowa needs to figure out going into this weekend’s game with No. 10 Penn State (5-0, 2-0) at Kinnick Stadium.
What Goodson showed at Michigan is worth hanging on to. He caught passes out of the backfield and while lined up as a wide receiver. He didn’t carry the ball enough for a complete evaluation as a runner, but no one did. Iowa called just 22 running plays, with one of those being a reverse for wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
Goodson had three rushes in the first quarter (4, minus-2 and 5 yards) and then rushed the ball just three times after that. He did have four touches in the fourth quarter, when the Hawkeyes were frantically trying to pass their way to a tie game.
“He took another step today, certainly,” Ferentz said. “He made some big plays out there and competes. He does a really good job and that makes us better in that backfield.”
The Hawkeyes have four players in the Big Ten’s top 30 for yards from scrimmage (rushing and receiving). Sargent is the leader with a 6.0-yard average on 72 touches. After Sargent, it’s Smith-Marsette with 14.9 yards on 24 touches, Goodson with 5.6 yards on 54 and Young with 7.1 yards on 42 touches.
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Also in his postgame, Ferentz said Goodson was part of the game plan against Michigan and that Goodson and Sargent will continue to be used as receivers out of the backfield but that Young probably wouldn’t get many of those plays.
Yes, at 190 pounds, pass protection might be the sticky point for Goodson. He mostly held up well when asked to do that vs. Michigan, but he did give up a pressure to linebacker Khaleke Hudson, a 6-0, 220-pound senior with 13.0 career sacks.
With three or maybe still four viable running backs, the call on who should be doing what can’t be easy and most definitely depends on whatever situation faces the Iowa offense at a given time during a game.
“He just continues to do good things,” quarterback Nate Stanley said. “He has our trust.”
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