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Iowa football looks to improve run while getting back to the basics

After three losses in a row, Iowa is getting back to the basics and focusing on improving in the run game.

The+Iowa+offensive+line+squares+up+against+the+Northwestern+defense+during+a+game+against+Northwestern+University+on+Saturday%2C+Nov.+10%2C+2018+at+Kinnick+Stadium+in+Iowa+City.+The+Wildcats+defeated+the+Hawkeyes+14-10.
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Iowa football looks to improve run while getting back to the basics

The Iowa offensive line squares up against the Northwestern defense during a game against Northwestern University on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. The Wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes 14-10.

The Iowa offensive line squares up against the Northwestern defense during a game against Northwestern University on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. The Wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes 14-10.

David Harmantas

The Iowa offensive line squares up against the Northwestern defense during a game against Northwestern University on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. The Wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes 14-10.

David Harmantas

David Harmantas

The Iowa offensive line squares up against the Northwestern defense during a game against Northwestern University on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. The Wildcats defeated the Hawkeyes 14-10.

Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

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Just three weeks ago, hopes of a Big Ten Championship appearance were vividly swimming around the minds of Hawkeye football fans, and now, disappointment has been woven into the fabric of the season.

After a dominant 23-0 win over Maryland on Oct. 20, Iowa has spiraled into a three-game losing streak that started with a heartbreaking loss to Penn State and most recently included a 14-10 defeat at the hands of Northwestern to knock it out of the Big Ten title race.

Perhaps the loss to Purdue on Nov. 3 made the Hawkeyes try too hard to keep what was slipping out of their grasp. Now, Iowa is getting back to the basics.

“I think everyone’s getting back to having fun,” offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs said. “After having three losses, things tend to get a little tense, but I think we’ve been trying to relax and get back to just playing ball.”

Repping the run game

Iowa’s identity as a team is to run the football. Teams know this and prepare accordingly. But in the past three games, the Hawkeyes have not once averaged more than 3.6 yards per carry.

From the Wisconsin game through the battle against the Terrapins, Iowa averaged 4.2 yards a carry, including a season-best 4.97 against Indiana.

The Hawkeyes proved they are capable of moving the ball on the ground. But in recent weeks, it hasn’t shown on the field.

“We want to get 4.5 yards per carry — that’s kind of like our goal, so it stings not getting that,” Wirfs said. “Every play starts up front, starts with us, so we do take that personally, just like we take it personally when Nate [Stanley] gets hit. We’ve just got to do better.”

Offensive lineman Ross Reynolds said he thinks the team is close to breaking out of its rut on the ground.

“It’s a couple steps away, it seems like,” he said. “It’s just the little things, and that what you have to focus on. Little things will always get you out, it seems like.”

Things have changed in the backfield all through the season. Mekhi Sargent is now listed on the depth chart as the starting running back, meaning all three backs have been listed as the No. 1 this season.

Ivory Kelly-Martin started the season first before Toren Young took the job over. Sargent is now the go-to guy. All three have continued to get carries no matter who is listed as the starter.

While it’s nice for a team to have three dependable backs, it might mean that none of them receives steady work on the field.

Despite the struggles, Sargent praised the offensive line and said he doesn’t think the problems lie with the coaches.

“We can do better jobs as individuals,” Sargent said. “It’s not the coaching stuff. We can do a better job as running backs.”

Injury report

Iowa took the field against Northwestern without Brandon Smith out wide, while also being short fullback Brady Ross and backup tight end Shaun Beyer.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz said Stanley is doing better after suffering a thumb injury.

Smith practiced the last two days and is set to come back this week, Ferentz said. However, receiver Max Cooper — who saw some playing time last week against the Wildcats — suffered a season-ending injury.

While Cooper’s absence will not help in terms of depth, Smith’s return can be a boost to the air attack.

“Whenever somebody’s down, you always miss them [when they] provide a spark for the team,” receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette said. “With him being back, the offense is more explosive, and we’re one play away from breaking a big one.”

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About the Contributors
Pete Ruden, Sports Editor

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @PeteyRuden

Pete Ruden is the Sports Editor at the DI, where he has worked since the beginning of his college...

David Harmantas, Photojournalist

Email: [email protected]

David Harmantas is a staff photographer at the The Daily Iowan. He is a third-year law student at the University of...

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