Coker Must Respond

Marcus Coker started his first full season as a starter on a sour note, fumbling on his first two carries. The true sophomore will try to bounce this week at Iowa State. All signs point to the miscues being something he'll overcome.

Iowa CITY, Iowa - Marcus Coker took on questions Tuesday like he's shed linebackers during his young career. Defenders have bounced off the bullish running back and pretty much did the same thing Tuesday with the non-stop inquiries about his two fumbles during Saturday's season.

"I've had a lot of bad games," the 6-foot, 230-pound true sophomore said. "It's nothing new."

I won't claim to know Coker personally. But in being around him, learning about him as a person and seeing how he carries himself, the safe money is that he'll bounce back.

Coker cares. His miscues on Saturday bothered him because he let down his teammates. This is a kid who volunteers his time to helping the mentally challenged and at animal shelters. We're talking about more than 1,000 hours here.

None of this guarantees Coker will stop coughing up the football. His fumble at Minnesota last season will always be remembered as costly. You don't want to say a pattern might be forming, but you can't say it won't with 100 percent certainty.

If that were to happen, it won't be because he didn't work on it. It will be one of those things we're unable to explain. He's too good of a person and player to make sense of that.

I admit I'm a little concerned by Coker saying on Saturday and again on Tuesday that he's still thinking about the fumbles. Psyche is such a huge part of sports.

That's the way Coker is wired. I mean, he majors in Astrophysics. The guy is in his own head a lot more than the rest of us are in ours.

"Some people are able to block it out better than others," said the Maryland native after admitting the first fumble was on his mind when he gave up the second one. "Sometimes I'm able to block it out. That just wasn't one of those times."

Iowa Quarterback James Vandenberg said he was surprised by the Coker fumbles. He also expressed to his young running back that things like that happen.

"I don't think people are going to jump on me if I throw a pick and I don't think they jumped on him for fumbling," Vandenberg said. "You have to realize that sometimes the defense is going to make a play. They're trying every play to make it as hard as they can for you.

"There are a lot of quality players on the other team. It's only going to be worse if you dwell on it."

It will help Coker to remember the fumbles this week. For him, it's part of the process of improvement.

"I think when Saturday comes, I'll be good," he said. "Throughout this week, it's going to be on my mind. When Friday comes, I'm just going to block it out totally."

Coker is one game removed from being the MVP of the Insight Bowl last December. It's easy to forget that Saturday was the fifth start of his young career. Expectations outweigh experience after his postseason performance.

"I'm not sure what everybody's expecting," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "If they're expecting 220 yards a game, that's not realistic. But Marcus is a good football player.

"We've been around Marcus now for over a year. He's a tremendous young man, quality person, quality player, and he'll bounce back would be my guess. He'll have a great week and come back ready to go Saturday."

Ferentz doesn't put up with running back fumbles. It's usually a quick way to the bench as Coker found out Saturday against Tennessee Tech.

True freshman Mika'il McCall replaced Coker and rushed for almost 7 yards per carry. He then broke a bone in his lower leg and Coker was called upon again.

Coker finished with 41 yards on 11 carries with a long run of 8 yards. You could tell his No. 1 priority was ball security and things likefinding the hole were secondary.

Running back is a very instinctual position. Protecting the ball almost becomes second nature and allows the runner to utilize vision and natural ability to allude and/or run over defenders. Coker needs to get back there.

"This week in practice we'll be doing our best to work on ball security," back-up running back Jason White said. "We saw the film. We know what we have to do moving forward.

"This is Marcus Coker here. He had a phenomenal year last year. He got off to a rough start, but I'm sure he'll be able to bounce back in no time."

Shortly after the game, Coker received a text message from his mom, Tammy Money. Marcus said that she knew better than to call him. After he calmed down, he called her.

"Mom is mom. She's always going to baby you a little bit," Coker said. "She just said it was the first game and to look forward to the next game. You can't keep your head down for the rest of the season. It happened twice, but it was one game.

"She told me to focus on next week. That's what I'm trying to do."

White said he and the other ball carriers can expect Iowa State (Saturday, 11 a.m., Ames) to come after the ball after watching the tape of the Tennessee Tech game. Coker said it's not something he needs to fix from a technical standpoint.

"It's just I didn't hang onto the ball," he said. "There are no excuses. No reasons. I didn't do it. I've got to."

I get the feeling he will.

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