Iowa Searching For Running Game

The Hawkeyes struggled to just 59 yards on 26 carries at Wisconsin on Saturday as teams continue to stack the box against the Iowa offense. The tactic hasn't been lost on the key principles in the Hawkeye attack. Senior Writer Rob Howe spoke to them and filed this feature free to all visitors of Hawkeye Nation.

We're looking for two men dressed in black and gold. One wears a shirt with 21 on it, the other a 28. They show up on Saturdays, but they're becoming more and more difficult to find. Many men line up to stop them.

If you know the whereabouts of the Iowa running game, please contact the Hawkeye coaching staff…and quarterback Jake Christensen.

Opponents have been loading up to stop the Iowa's senior running back tandem of Albert Young and Damian Sims this season. After each rushed for 100 yards in the season-opener against Northern Illinois, the Hawkeyes have run 101 times for 292 yards (2.9 yards per carry) in their last three ballgames, two of which were losses.

The opposition employed this tactic last season after Young led the Big Ten in rushing a year earlier and quarterback Drew Tate was working with inexperienced receivers. This year, Iowa has lost its top three returning pass catchers to injury and suspension and utilized first-year starter Jake Christensen under center.

In a 17-13 loss at Wisconsin on Saturday, the Hawkeyes ran the ball only 26 times for 59 yards. Iowa has run less than 30 times just three times in its last 17 games, all losses.

It is becoming a formula for success in stopping the Hawkeyes, and they'll likely see it again during this Saturday's homecoming game against Indiana and moving forward. Christensen, a green line and the young Iowa receivers need to make plays to open up the running game.

"I don't think we have a choice now," Christensen said. "We're going to see that probably for a while until we show we can beat it."

Iowa State and Wisconsin stacked the box and used blitzes out of it to further frustrate the Hawkeyes.

"I'm sure we'll work on pressure hard this week," Christensen said. "It affected us a little bit, but at the same time, that would affect any offense, bringing that much pressure. Our defense just kept giving us opportunities. If they keep playing like that, we're going to be OK."

Statistics can be deceiving at this time of year because the out of conference schedules vary so much in terms of difficulty. But the Hoosiers (3-1 overall, 0-1 Big Ten) come into Kinnick with 18 sacks through four games, which ranks third best in the nation.

Iowa opponents have sacked Christensen 11 times, largely because the team ends up in third and long situations. Forty seven of the team's 62 third down opportunities have been four yards or greater. Iowa has converted just 20 third-down chances and 15 of those have come with three yards or less to go.

"We're going three and out," Young said. "You can see the numbers. We're not running as much as we would like to. We're just not in situations where we're able to get in that running groove."

"Defenses are determined not to let us run or attempt to. Naturally, things aren't going to be the same. When you look at how many people teams are putting in the box, in reality, that's kind of like they are respecting the run game and then we'll be able to get things over top."

It hasn't worked out that way so far, save a 30-0 thumping of Syracuse where Christensen 23 of 32 passes for 278 yards and four touchdowns. In the other three games, the Hawkeyes have averaged 14 points with the starting quarterback completing just 41 of 89 passes for 420 yards.

Combined, Young and Sims are averaging only about 28 touches a game.

"You have to do, in the course of a game, what gives you the best chance, what allows you to have success," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. "That's what dictates our play calling and our thinking. That being said, it's obvious that they're two guys that have good experience. We need to try and get them involved. There are only so many ways you can do it."

One of the ways to increase their production is by putting them on the field together. If history is any indication, it's not something with which the staff is comfortable.

"We've done that in the past," Ferentz said. "Certainly it's something that makes sense in our equation, just because they're experienced players, not only experienced but they're good players. They're productive, they're proven productive, and it's something – we'll have to look at that a little bit harder now."

The Hawkeyes used some four-wideout sets in Madison last week in an attempt to counter the stacked box. It worked at times, but the young receivers still were missing blitz pickup assignments.

It might come down to Iowa imposing its will against stacked fronts.

"We're going to have to do things on the outside and just get to the point where it doesn't matter how many people they're going to put in there, we're going to do it anyway," Young said.

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