Howe: Greene Rises Above the Rest

Shonn Greene added another chapter to a storybook season on Saturday as he ran for 211 yards and two scores in a 22-17 win against Purdue. The Boilermaker coaches heaped some high praise on the Iowa running back and his teammates also delivered some bold statements. Columnist Rob Howe writes about this Hawkeye for the ages and how he might be the next Bob Sanders.

It's the year of the running back in the Big Ten. Naming the top guy is open for debate. Michigan State's Javon Ringer, Wisconsin's P.J. Hill, Ohio State's Beenie Wells, Penn State's Evan Royster and Iowa's Shonn Greene all have supporters.

Purdue Defensive Coordinator Brock Spack mocked the debate. He'll take Greene in a landslide.

"We thought coming in that he was the best back in the league and we leave here with no doubt that he's the best back in the league, by far," Spack said.

The Boilermakers lost 21-7 at Michigan State last week, when Ringer rambled for 121 yards on 32 carries and two scores. Greene rolled up 211 on 30 with two touchdowns in Iowa's 22-17 win against Purdue Saturday in Kinnick Stadium.

"It's not even close," Spack said. "(Greene) is big, strong, tough. There's no comparison (between Ringer and Greene). He's fast and he's big and he's a pro. He's the best back in this conference, bar none. It's no contest."

Spack has coached some impressive defenses in West Lafayette since joining the staff in 1991. He said Greene brought to mind a former Penn State back.

"He reminds me a little of Curtis Ennis," Spack said. "(Greene is) not overly tall, but stout and a physical back. That's who he reminds me of. We bounced off him a few times in ‘97. This guy is a real man playing tailback. He's a Sunday guy, for sure."

Iowa fans might be watching the 5-foot-11, 235-pound bruiser on Sundays next fall. His effort against Purdue adds more ammunition to the Greene-to-the-NFL talk.

Greene repeated what he's said all season when asked about leaving after this season with a year remaining of eligibility. He has told the media the same thing he's shared with students on campus or anybody who continues to ask.

"I'm not thinking about that right now," said the New Jersey native, who announced neither he nor anyone close to him has heard much from NFL agents. "I'm trying to get to a better bowl game right now."

The humble Greene, once again, credited his line and other teammates for his success. It's nice that he's done that all season, and it has been genuine, but this guy is unbelievable. His 75-yard touchdown sprint on Saturday showed the speed that might be the only question surrounding his running game.

"Their one counter play was the one that we didn't have the answer for," Purdue Coach Joe Tiller said. "He's a real load. He's a big, strong, powerful back, who obviously has some speed, too. I made the comment coming into to the game that we had to vote on All-Big Ten this week and we voted him as the tailback in the conference. He certainly didn't disappoint today."

Mitch King played another great game on Saturday. The Iowa offensive line looked nasty again. Hawkeye players made plays all over the field to help this team reach seven wins for the first time since ‘05.

But there is no question Greene is this team's MVP. Baring injury, he's going to break the single-season rushing record set by Tavian Banks eleven years ago (Greene needs 107 yards). To run for 100 or more yards in 11 straight games not only shows amazing consistency, but an unmatched reliability.

Jewel Hampton looks like a star in the making, but he's not Greene. It's scary to think where Iowa would be without its No. 1 tailback.

Where the Hawkeyes might have been on Saturday is staring at a must-win at Minnesota next week. The three-win Boilermakers battled hard despite being out of postseason contention.

Purdue sliced the Iowa lead to 6-3 early in the second quarter. The Boilermakers put together a season-best, 17-play drive and appeared to grab the momentum.

The Iowa offense trotted out on the field and Greene picked up five yards on first down. On the second play, he ran left and spun off a would be tackler. He broke down the sideline and outran defenders to about the 10-yard line. He cut it back away from traffic there, and cruised into the end zone.

"I did all right there," the modest Greene said. "I wasn't too fast, though."

Purdue bounced back with a touchdown before halftime and the teams went into the intermission with the Hawkeyes leading 12-10. Iowa added a 45-yard Daniel Murray for the only scoring in the third quarter.

It looked like a sketchy situation for the Hawkeyes playing against a care-free team with the wind at its back for the final period. Then, Greene took over.

A poor punt and a 16-yard return by Andy Brodell set the home team up at the Purdue 36 with 14:13 remaining in the game. A field goal would have kept it a one score game.

Greene ripped off a 14-yarder and then ran for eight on the first two plays from scrimmage to put Iowa on the Boilermaker 14. On the next play, he bolted to the left, running over the Purdue safety and into the end zone. Murray's point after gave the home team a 22-10 edge.

"He was flying down all game," Greene said of the Purdue defensive back. "I had to give him something to slow him down a little bit."

That's about as cocky a statement you'll hear from Greene. And, really, it is more tough talk than boasting.

"He is the most fun running back I've ever had to block for in my life," Iowa Center Rob Bruggeman said. "He's one of the best running backs I've ever seen. That power play where he kind of hit one of their safeties and kind of made a little play there, that is one of the most exciting plays for an offensive lineman to watch. He's a great running back. I can't say enough about him."

Iowa Middle Linebacker Pat Angerer said a lot when he spoke about Greene in Saturday's post-game.

"I remember his freshman year when he came in and was behind Albert (Young) and Damian (Sims)," Angerer said. "I don't want to discredit those guys, but I think he was our best running back then. It's just exciting to finally watch him running and playing and have the success that he's having."

When Greene leaves for the NFL after this season, the argument won't be whether or not he was the best back in the run-happy Big Ten for '08. The debate for Hawkeye fans will be if he's the best back ever to put on an Iowa uniform.

Having covered Iowa football in some capacity since 1997 and pretty much full time for the last nine years, I've held fast to my opinion that Ladell Betts is the best back I've covered here. It was based on his all-around game. Saturday's performance by Greene really left me close to changing that ranking.

This guy hasn't shown the best hands in the passing game. He's missed blocks at times. But there's no doubt in my mind that he's been the best runner I've seen.

Bob Sanders changed the tone at Iowa and laid the foundation for the Hawkeyes' identity of the early part of this decade. That existence took a hit the last few years with off the field issues and underperformance on Saturdays. Greene has positioned himself to be the bedrock of a Hawkeye resurgence.

"I think I'm beyond that part of it," Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said after being asked if he was amazed by Greene's performance on Saturday. "The guy just plays hard each and every week. Certainly a lot of guys are involved in that, but Shonn has been a real catalyst for our football team. The determination and the toughness that he plays with, that's just so impressive.

"And again, I'm not into national awards, but if you look at players playing football, I can't imagine there are many guys playing that position better than Shonn Greene across the country. That's a real credit to him. And probably the best part about him is it's not about him. He's all about the team, a delightful guy to be around on a day-to-day basis, and he just cares an awful lot about his teammates."

A virtual unknown after missing last season with academic issues, Greene is turning more heads each week. If there is any justice, he'll win the Doak Walker Award as the nation's top running back. He's also should be invited to New York as a Heisman Trophy Finalist. He's earned it.

Iowa fans were chanting "one more year" as Greene left the field on Saturday. They had to know in their hearts that it was an empty plea.

"I'll sit down after the bowl game and think about that stuff," he said. "Right now, I don't know."

Thanks for the memories, Shonn.

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