Iowa is 8-0 but they've had a lot of adversity to overcome on the way. The injury bug has affected numerous position groups, causing a lot of transformation to the look of the team throughout the year. None have been impacted greater than the running back unit.
At the beginning of the year, LeShun Daniels was the unquestioned starter with senior Jordan Canzeri also in the picture. Daniels then suffered an ankle sprain against Iowa State that caused him to be severely limited against Pittsburgh and North Texas. They decided to go with a different approach and allow him to sit out the first three Big Ten games to regain health.
In Daniels' absence, Jordan Canzeri became the starter and accumulated eye-popping statistics. He carried the ball 43 times for 256 yards against Illinois and had four scores against North Texas. He was among the best in the Big Ten before going down with an injury against Northwestern, an injury identical to Daniels.
With Daniels unavailable against the Wildcats in Evanston and Canzeri injuring himself early on, Akrum Wadley got his turn. All he did was rush for 204 yards and 4 touchowns while Derrick Mitchell also tallied 79 yards on 10 carries.
It just hasn't mattered who gets the ball for Iowa as the results have remained the same. The senior of the group got a message out to the media yesterday via Akrum Wadley that the four were all together and on the same page, by sharing a nickname they have given themselves. That's not a bad sign. It shows there is no bruised egoes and they're all supporting each other regardless of who is getting the glory in any given week.
"It's definitely something great," Akrum Wadley said of the performance of the four running backs. "We all (are) special. Derrick Mitchell, LeShun (Daniels) and myself, and when (Jordan) Canzeri gets healthy it'll be somethign special. 'Four Deadly Horsemen', that's what we are. That's what Canzeri said that we are. He wanted me to say that."
"Yeah, (that's his term)," Wadley added. "All four of us can make plays as you've seen. He's been saying that since the beginning of the season. We all took a picture with our visors on. He's been saying that since about Week 2. He said to make sure we mention that today."
The interesting aspect about each of the four running backs is that they all run differently. They all have their own style that is specific to them. It can be difficult to prepare for as they all contribute to the team differently, and have their own strengths. And together, they have no weaknesses.
"We know we bring different things to the table," junior LeShun Daniels commented. "It's going to depend on the caoches and what they think is best for the team at that given time. None of us are selfish. We're always rooting for one another whenever they're in making plays. We're competitive guys but we're close friends on and off the field."
Derrick Mitchell even corrected someone when they pointed out that Iowa has three very good running backs right now.
"Actually we have four but one was down this week," Mitchell made sure to clear up. "There's not any defined roles. We all do different things. Some guys are better in certain roles. I'm better as a third-down back. I just went in there and did what I had to to keep drives going. It shows the versatility we have with all the running backs we (have). You can't focus on one. You have to focus on all four. That's very key."
Daniels showed what he has in his arsenal as he showed more of a penchant for contact on Saturday against the Terrapins. He can bulldoze defenders over and show off his physicality. Jordan Canzeri has his quick burst through the hole and the sudden quickness and a great feel for the game. Derrick Mitchell runs more upright and is more of a load to bring down and runs very hard and is one of the best as a weapon in the passing game. In Akrum Wadley's case, he's the home-run hitter looking to get free at any point.
"I'm definitely a playmaker," Wadley shared. "I'm real shifty. I go for the big runs. What I just need to do is continue to tuck the ball in and follow my blocks. The holes are going to open for us, we have the best offensive line in the country. They lighten the load for us. Whatever hole they make, we just hit it."
Having four dynamic runners as the Hawkeyes do can make for an interesting dynamic in terms of managing the egoes. Some probably notice it from the outside and assume it's difficult to manage for the coaching staff. A lot of it has worked itself out with the injuries that have occurred, but a lot of the credit should also go to the leadership of Jordan Canzeri. They follow his lead and it's easy to see that they continue to lean on him even when he's not out on the field.
"It might sound funny but Jordan, it felt like he was with us every step of the way," Wadley explained. "He was always right there. He was telling me everything. He was with us. He's a great leader. He (does) everything. It's all about that big brother. He (does) it all."
It could be tough to sort through it all, keeping everyone happy, but Jordan Canzeri is the glue that keeps it all together.