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Parker back on the field and back on track


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Jonathan Parker’s season could have ended after two games.

After fumbling the ball twice in one game — which led to 10 Ball State points — the assumption was that Parker would be put on the shelf for the foreseeable future.

The Iowa coaches had different plans.

Four games after nearly costing Iowa a loss, Parker has seemingly become a staple in the offense. He’s a wrinkle in the running game and a playmaker that is a constant threat to score.

Most importantly, the coaches say they never lost faith in him.

“There was a headline I saw somewhere that suggested we hadn’t lost faith or are getting faith back in him,” head coach Kirk Ferentz said following Iowa’s 45-29 win over Indiana. “Just for the record, he had two tough plays in that Ball State game, but I don’t think anybody was ever down on Jonathan.

“When you’ve got a young guy out there, a guy who hasn’t played, he’s going to go through some tough times.”

Following his two-fumble performance against Ball State, several players on the team approached Parker. They told him to forget about it.

“We older guys, we older running backs, we just talked to him and said, ‘Let it go, it doesn’t matter,’ ” Mark Weisman said. “We ended up getting the win, and you got to get over it. You got to get over it fast. And he did.”

Parker, a St. Louis native, is listed as a running back, but he mostly plays out of the slot. The majority of the plays he’s involved in are designed to get him out in space, where his speed can really show, such as his 60-yard touchdown run against Indiana on a jet sweep or his 34-yard screen pass against Purdue the week before.

It’s fair to say Parker hasn’t dwelled on his mistakes.

“Coming off that Ball State game, it’s just, you know, you’re a football player,” he said. “It happens to the best of us.”

Parker doesn’t always get the ball. In fact, even in his best games, he’s only had a handful of touches. But the mere threat of him busting a big play has helped the Iowa offense.

When Parker goes in motion, the defense is at least forced to think about the ball going to him, causing hesitation.

While it’s far from the end-all be-all stat, think about this: In Parker’s two most productive games, against Purdue and Indiana, Iowa has rushed for 175 yards and 207 yards, its highest rushing totals of the season.

This may not be a direct result of Parker, but his outside running threat has likely opened up some holes in between the tackles.

“It can,” quarterback Jake Rudock said. “Teams have to prepare for that, and then at the same time, you start getting an over-shift in the defense, and then you’re going the other way.”

Parker brings more to this team than just receiving and running the ball — he’s also one of the Big Ten’s best kickoff returners. Using his 4.4 40-yard dash speed, according to Rivals, Parker averages 27.43 yards per return. That average is the best in the Big Ten and 18th in the nation.

This production is welcome, especially from a guy who was a late commitment the Hawkeyes. When Iowa began to recruit him, Parker had already committed to Tulsa.

“I really liked what he did in high school,” Ferentz said. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world, but he was a very productive and hard-charging kind of guy. You know, we don’t have enough guys running around here to make plays.

“Fortunately, he bought into it.”

Parker has bought into the program, and now he’s reaping the benefits. Iowa is rarely been lauded as a big-play program. Sooner or later, Parker could change that perception.

“I just hope to see more and more to come,” he said. “I’m not satisfied with anything yet.”