IOWA CITY, Ia. - The first time I remember hearing the question posed to coach Kirk Ferentz was during last season. How would he deal with having three talented running backs all in the same sophomore class for 2010 and beyond?
The Hawkeye head man chuckled and said he'd learned that a football team could never have enough good ball carriers. The longtime coach saw it many times in his career, including in 2004 when Iowa won a Big Ten title despite being decimated by injury at the position.
Not that anyone could have predicted what's happened in the last month and a half, but Ferentz saved himself a lot of trouble by not concerning himself with a potential logjam at running back. Saturday, the Hawkeyes employed a pair a freshmen to back up Adam Robinson.
Robinson started the season in a three-way competition with fellow sophomores Jewel Hampton and Brandon Wegher. Hampton suffered a season-ending knee injury a week ago and Wegher left the team for personal reasons a few days into camp.
The Hawkeyes have gone from three-headed monster to one-two punch to A-Rob and the rookies. And you know what? There's a very strong case that Iowa will be OK.
Redshirt freshman Brad Rogers came to Iowa as a running back, albeit an overweight one. He came close to playing last season but never got the call. He moved to fullback in the off-season.
Saturday, a slimmed down but by no means slim Rogers carried nine times for 66 yards. He showed a pretty good combination of burst and power.
Marcus Coker, who D-coordinator Norm Parker would say rode the yellow bus last year, stepped in behind Rogers and posted 62 yards on 10 carries. The true freshman hurt his collarbone at the beginning of camp and didn't participate in a full week of practice until last week. Saturday's 45-0 blasting of Ball State represented the first time he faced contact since arriving to college.
"They're definitely physical runners," said Robinson, whose 115 yards on 22 totes represented the third time in this season's first four games that he's eclipsed the century mark. "They are definitely great downhill runners. They can get yards after contact from what they showed (Saturday). That is what they bring to the table."
Even though the names have changed, the Iowa running game will be fine. Fifth-year senior Paki O'Meara will be back soon to support the Top 3 guys. If the Hawkeyes avoid injuries at the position, this group can help this program be very successful this season.
Iowa won the Orange Bowl last season with Robinson and Wegher seeing their first college action. Robinson broke Hampton's freshman rushing record at the school and Wegher posted the most touchdowns by a first year player. Hampton set the record while backing up Shonn Greene in ‘08 before undergoing knee surgery the following summer.
"I was very impressed with the way they played," Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi said of Rogers and Coker. "You see the potential that is there. You can't just count on potential. You want to see potential. We were able to see that from those guys."
Coker seemed a little more reluctant to choose running lanes than did Rogers on Saturday. The Washington D.C product did show power and he has enough burst to be productive once he gets his feet under him a bit more.
The combined 19 carries won't be a common occurrence the rest of the way. Penn State comes to Iowa City next week to open Big Ten play and Robinson will carry more of the load than he did against Ball State.
"Right now our plan is Adam will be our featured back like Shonn was a couple of years ago; and go back to the Fred Russell era when he had those two years ('02-03)," Ferentz said. "He's our primary back and we'll do whatever we can to fuel it around him."
Even with the game pretty much in hand at halftime on Saturday, Ferentz waited until the fourth quarter before inserting Rogers and Coker. They're going to have to prove themselves in practice before he lets them loose in key situations on Saturdays.
"I'm not ready to proclaim either one of them as Big Ten ready," the coach said. "But at least (Saturday) got them some valuable experience. That should help them as they continue to develop."