CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - The wheels could have come off when Iowa starting offensive linemen Rafael Eubanks and Dace Richardson were sidelined with injury here on Saturday. Starter Mike Jones already was out due to suspension.
In stepped a redshirt freshman walk-on from Iowa City. And to top that off, Travis Meade had just switched from the defensive line less than two months ago.
Think about that folks. This is a kid that arrived at Iowa with arguably the greatest offensive line recruiting class in Hawkeye history, and the coaches called his number (61, in case you missed it). Star-studded players like Dan Doering, Kyle Calloway and Andy Kuempel were standing on the sidelines. Rashad Dunn and Nyere Aumaitre have scholarships, but they didn't have a ticket to Champaign.
Yes, Meade rolled as the next man in.
"It's just a credit to the coaches and then just the guys in the room; you know, (Mike) Elgin, (Marshal) Yanda, Eubanks, Seth (Olsen), Doering, Kuempel, all those guys," Meade said. "Everyone in there is always helping me out. Coming off the field today, they were all saying, "You're ready. You're ready. Good job out there." They were giving me feedback on things I was doing wrong and what I was doing right.
"It's a family. Through camp, they were helping me to absorb all the knowledge that I needed to. I really didn't know what was going on.
With a 21-0 halftime lead against the lowly Illinois, the Hawkeyes were playing the last 30 minutes close to the vest. They weren't going to fling the ball all over the place. They were manning up and running the ball despite the Illini loading the box with everybody from Dick Butkus to Kevin Hardy.
Iowa rushed the ball 20 times for 39 yards behind its starting offensive line in the opening half. In the second half, the Hawkeyes carried 22 times for 115, not great numbers but real important when you're trying to eat clock and get out of Dodge with the W.
"It just makes you feel good that the coaches trusted us. We just said that we were going to come out and run the ball," Meade said. "It was just bodies on bodies out there to run that clock down and try to run that ball. I wish we would have done a little better job in the second half."
Following the suspension of Jones for violating team rules, offensive line coach Reese Morgan approached Olsen and Meade last Sunday and presented a challenge.
"He kind of hinted that Seth was going to start but told me to prepare like I was going to start," Meade said. "He said he was going to give me and Seth a fair shot at the job. He probably told Seth the same thing, so we were both ready to go.
"Seth played a great game out there and then when Raf went down, I knew that I was going to be in. I didn't know if he was going to be able to go in the second half. At halftime, we made that decision to keep me in there. I'm grateful that they trusted me."
Elgin slid into Eubanks' spot at center, Olsen switched from left guard to right guard and Meade came in at left guard.
"It's incredible," Olsen said of Meade‘s ascension up the depth chart. "He's only been playing collegiate offense line for a month and a half, maybe. That's pretty incredible. He had to have a quick learning curve and he's adjusted to that well."
Meade came to Iowa because they asked. He played on the same Iowa City West High team as Alex Kanellis. He looked up to former Trojan, Tyler Luebke, who walked on at Iowa and started on the '04 defensive line, one of the best groups to ever come through Hawkeye Country.
"As soon as Iowa offered me the walk-on place, I knew I had to go," Meade said. "It was just something I always wanted to do. That was kind of my goal, to get enough respect from those guys to show them that I could play at Iowa.
"As soon as they said I was good enough to play here, I went with them. I know what kind of people they are. I grew up wanting to play for Coach Morgan at West High, and when he came to Iowa I knew it was the right fit. Coach Aiken is family friends with my mom."
Iowa lists Meade at 6-feet, 280 pounds, which is generous. And, those are not the most imposing dimensions for an offensive lineman, anyway. Luebke also was considered undersized, but the roster couldn't measure passion and heart.
"Tyler was a hard worker," Meade said. "Coming in, you want to be like those guys. Tyler Luebke is a guy that you can tell on every play he's busting his balls. Those kind of guys are really the kind of guys you want to follow.
"The Iowa offensive line is we're going to out work them for four quarters, and that's the attitude I have. "
Again, think about what happened on Saturday. This guy walked onto the team last summer as a defensive lineman and played the entire second half Saturday, helping Iowa push through a stacked defense to salt away the clock.
"I came in with the attitude of wherever I could be the best used out on the field or in practice, this is where I wanted to be," Meade said. "Coach (Kirk) Ferentz came up to me and said they were thinking about moving me to offense and asked me what I thought. I said, 'If you think it's a good move, then I'm going to go with it.' I was comfortable with it. It's a great feeling to know how far I've come in this short of time."
Meade's father, Tim Meade, told me before Travis' junior season at West that his son should receive a scholarship from Iowa.
I have a feeling that one is coming.