Iowa football’s run game falters

It’s been a rough few games for the Hawkeyes — especially for the Iowa running backs.

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Iowa football’s run game falters

Iowa running back Ivory Kelly-Martin runs the ball during the Iowa/Purdue game at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. The Boilermakers defeated the Hawkeyes 38-36.

Iowa running back Ivory Kelly-Martin runs the ball during the Iowa/Purdue game at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. The Boilermakers defeated the Hawkeyes 38-36.

Katina Zentz

Iowa running back Ivory Kelly-Martin runs the ball during the Iowa/Purdue game at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. The Boilermakers defeated the Hawkeyes 38-36.

Katina Zentz

Katina Zentz

Iowa running back Ivory Kelly-Martin runs the ball during the Iowa/Purdue game at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Indiana on Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018. The Boilermakers defeated the Hawkeyes 38-36.

Jordan Zuniga, Sports Reporter

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Three weeks ago, the Hawkeyes were sitting at 6-1 with thoughts of winning the West and, if the stars aligned just right, a chance at their very first playoff appearance.

Now, three losses later, Iowa is just trying to remember how to win a game.

Painful losses to Purdue, Northwestern, and Penn State have ended any chances at the West and any hope that Iowa might get into a New Year’s Six Bowl.

There is still something to play for — Iowa will appear in a bowl game, but which one is yet to be determined.

Right now, SB Nation has Iowa playing in the Holiday Bowl against Washington, which, if it wins out, would be the logical bowl for the Hawkeyes.

However, if the Hawkeyes hope to get back on track this week, they are going to have to focus on what’s been their identity over the past several decades: running the football.

Iowa’s rushing numbers have taken a bit of a dip in the Nate Stanley era. In the previous four seasons before he took over at starting quarterback, Iowa averaged 4.3 yards per carry; in Stanley’s almost two-year career as a starter, the Hawkeyes have managed to rush for 3.8 yards per carry.

The last time Iowa averaged under 4 yards per carry before Stanley was in the 2012-13 season, when it managed only 3.5 yards a carry. That season ended 4-8.

It’s true that at times, Stanley has proven himself to be good enough to not need the help from the running game, as he did against Minnesota this season. But Stanley would still greatly benefit from a better running game.

That has been especially apparent these past three games, in which the Hawkeyes have had major struggles on the ground. 

RELATED: Defensive gaps lead to loss against Northwestern 

During the first seven games of the season, Iowa averaged around 4.0 yards per carry, slightly lower than its pre-Stanley numbers, but it was obviously good enough to win games.

Yet, since the game against Maryland, Iowa has found it almost impossible to rush the football, averaging just 3.2 yards per carry during the three-game losing streak.

The Hawkeyes’ rushing woes were glaringly apparent in the game against Northwestern, in which they managed a pitiful 64 yards on the ground for an average of just 2.9 yards a carry.

Throughout the three-game slump, it has predictably been the Hawkeye running backs that have hurt the running game.

The first seen games of the season, Iowa’s running-back trio of Mekhi Sargent, Toren Young, and Ivory Kelly-Martin averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Since the Penn State game, that average has dipped to just 4 yards per carry for the group.

Kelly-Martin has struggled the most over Iowa’s three game skid, rushing for just 62 yards on 18 attempts, which is bad enough for 3.4 yards per carry.

Whether it’s been that defenses have figured out how Iowa wants to run the ball or if the Hawkeye offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz is being too predictable, something has gone awry in the Hawkeye running game.

If Iowa hopes to get back on track this season, it will need to figure out a way to get more yards out of the running backs.