One of the breakout stars a couple weeks ago against Northwestern was Iowa running back Akrum Wadley. With LeShun Daniels not available and Jordan Canzeri going down early with an injury, it was up to Wadley and Derrick Mitchell to shoulder the load in the backfield.
Wadley answered the bell in a resounding way. He rushed for 204 yards and 4 touchdowns, but his biggest feat was not fumbling the ball, something that has plagued him throughout his career with the Hawkeyes.
Ball security has been a focus for Iowa, but specifically Wadley. He's received some help from outside the football program as well and has been the recipient of some extra motivation.
"My mom has been trying to fly out here," Wadley said. "She wants me capable of holding onto the ball. She just wants to keep tackling me. She's got a lot of jokes. If I fumble again, she said she's going to tape the ball to me like on 'Friday Night Lights' (a movie). If I fumble again, she's going to do that."
His high school coach has also been involved in that area, stressing to him that it's more mental than physical.
"(My high school coach) said it was all mental," Wadley noted. "It's definitely all mental for me, but it's physical too. I have to get stronger and get my weight up. It's definitely been mental. On the inside zone play, I get too excited, and have the ball out."
Wadley has taken that advice to come up with a strategy of his own to deal with the issues, and it's worked lately.
"I definitely haven't arrived yet," he pointed out. "I still have to concentrate on it. But I try not to think about it and just play my game. Two hands. Two hands on the ball."
His running style has changed a bit this year. He's excluded one of his moves as a ball-carrier and has implemented a new one. It's all about doing what works and using the ways that have been successful for him.
"The spin was one of my moves that I thought I was best at," Wadley admitted. "But I was getting hit off the spin and it hasn't worked out for me. I'm just trying to juke instead of spin. (The jump cut) is just natural instincts. When I can't get outside, I jump inside where the play is designed."
The tutelage of the experienced running backs on the Hawkeye roster has helped him keep his head in the game and be a valuable contributor for Iowa this season.
"I've been thinking about that," he commented on his rise from the bottom of the depth chart to the top. "I did start off the season kind of down. I just wanted to work hard. We have some good backs. (LeShun) Daniels and (Jordan) Canzeri, they are great leaders. They picked me up when I was down adn just told me that I was going to get my shot and I did."
"It's definitely a great feeling (to be on the top of the depth chart)," Wadley added. "It gives me a great deal a confidence. There's a lot of pressure on me (to do well). It's a good thing. I just have to stay focused and continue to do what I have to jump from fifth or sixth on the depth chart."
For him, and the rest of the Iowa team, the next challenge is to handle all the praise that they are receiving. They went in with low expectations but they have since risen to astronomical levels after the 7-0 start.
"Don't let up," Wadley explained about the rest of the season. "The moment we let up, it gets taken away from us real quick. One day at a time. One game at a time. We can't let up. That's when you slip up. We're going to treat Maryland like any other team. We're going to work hard. We have to try to execute and play our hearts out."
"We're not worried about (rust)," he continued about the layoff from the bye week. "We were huming out there today. We had a good practice. We're picking up the intensity."