Iowa Running Game Hits Paydirt

After struggling to get rolling the first five weeks, Iowa's running game hit full stride on Saturday in a 47-17 victory against Purdue at Kinnick even without injured starter Albert Young. HN.com Senior Writer Rob Howe spoke with reserves Damian Sims and Shonn Greene about their breakout day and who they think should be No. 1 on the depth chart.

We can only hope that Albert Young exited Kinnick Stadium safely after Saturday's 47-17 drubbing of Purdue. You know plenty of fickle Iowa fans were ready to throw the all-conference running back under the proverbial bus.

Young, who led the Big Ten in rushing during conference play a year ago, sat out the game with a knee injury. The starter's replacements – Damian Sims and Shonn Greene – rolled up a combined 243 yards and three scores against the Boilermakers.

Young had failed to reach the century mark on the ground in each of the first five games of the season, and opinions that Sims should move into the starting line-up were swelling each week. Sims and Greene supplied the Young critics with ammunition on Saturday.

Fortunately, the reserves can see the forest through the trees.

"I think it's unfair," Green said of the criticism levied at Young. "That's just the way that things happen sometimes. You're not always going to have that good game. I don't think anything is wrong with Albert. He's a great back and he's the starter of this team. He gets the job done, point blank period."

Credit should be given to Sims (20-155, 2TDs) and Greene (11-88) for getting the job done on Saturday, but other factors were at work:

-Purdue's defense performed the worst of any that Iowa has faced this season. The Hawkeyes certainly had something to do with that, but the Boilers entered the game ranked dead last in the Big Ten in total defense. Purdue and Ohio State also didn't stack the box like Iowa's first four opponents.

-Iowa's offensive line is performing better in the ground game with Mike Elgin back at center. The Hawkeyes were running well against Ohio State last week before falling far behind dictated they abandon it.

-Iowa has moved to some three tight end formations which have helped the blocking schemes.

"I'd like to say that maybe we would have gotten more yards (with Young playing against Purdue) because Albert is a mixture of Damian and Shonn," Elgin said.

The Hawkeyes focused on running the ball better in practice this week.

"We talked about it all week that the running backs and fullbacks have to be the spark on offense," fullback Tom Busch said. "We have to set the tempo. That was definitely a goal for us this week."

The key to a strong Iowa running game centers around cohesive blocking in zone schemes of the offensive line.

"We were focused all week," Elgin said. "We knew that we were close. It didn't take that much more effort and things were going to open up. Today, everybody knew that and put that extra effort forward to getting a block.

"It's a credit to our backs, too. Damian and Shonn did a great job of reading blocks. We have three excellent backs. They're a complement to each other. It's going to be an advantage to us in the future as long as we keep the run game going."

Young rushed for a Big Ten best 125.9 yards per game during league play in'05. He became the first Hawkeye to lead the conference in rushing since Dennis Mosley in 1979. His 111.2 yards per game overall ranked 17th nationally.

Yet, some of the Iowa faithful chucked AY under the wheels of the bus without thinking twice.

"Albert is the starter," Sims said when asked if he made his case to be No. 1 on Saturday. "He rushed for all the yards last year. He's one of the better running backs in the country. We all want to play. If it was a perfect world we all would get 30 carries a game. Unfortunately, it's not like that."

Greene said the entire offense clicked on Saturday.

"It's more of everything, not just the running backs," he said. "The wideouts, they blocked, too. They did a good job blocking. Everybody attacked at the point of the ball. We got it done. It's not just the running backs. We need all 11 guys doing their job."

Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz learned in 2004 that a team can never have enough running backs. That year, the Hawkeyes lost their top three tailbacks to ACL tears.

The coach approached Sims and Greene a few weeks ago, and encouraged them to be ready for action.

"The coaches know what I can do," Sims said. "Coach Ferentz was telling me and Shonn to keep our heads up. He knew what we could do."

Sims said the goal for the offense was to get him more carries the whole season, but that hasn't happened because the Hawkeye opponents have forced them to throw by stacking the box or getting a big lead, like Ohio State.

"They were calling the right plays and everything was going how we wanted it to go," Sims said of Saturday's offensive flow. "A lot of times the situations dictate how much I'll play in the game. If things go on track, then I should get a lot of carries. Typically, that's the game plan going into every game this season. Today, it seemed like how we drew everything up it worked."

Young chipped into the game plan with support for his understudies on the sidelines Saturday.

"He was being Albert, always talking to me, telling me to find the holes," Sims said. "He's always been like a big brother to me as far as guiding me on the field, showing me the little stuff. He's been there. He knows that I can play. But I haven't really gotten the reps."

Young took pride in how the younger backs performed.

"I don't think it was tough for him (being on the sidelines)," Greene said. "He had a smile on his face telling me and Damian, "This is your chance right here. You've got to get the job done. This is the opportunity you've been waiting for." He felt pretty good that we did a good job in his absence."

Busch also has added another dimension to the offensive backfield, catching his second touchdown of the season on Saturday. However, he really opened eyes with a crushing block on the Purdue safety Justin Scott during a big Greene run.

"That's a fun one," Busch said. "We checked into the play. They were bringing some pressure. The guy that I ended up on wasn't the guy I was supposed to block."

Busch was called on to find a linebacker in the original play.


Hawkeye Insider Top Stories