Iowa football report card: Running backs

Iowa’s running backs picked it up by the end of the seasons, but the Hawkeyes had an average year on the ground.

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Iowa football report card: Running backs

Iowa running back Mehki Sargent carries the ball during the Iowa vs. Nebraska game on Friday, November 23, 2018. Iowa defeated the Huskers 31-28.

Iowa running back Mehki Sargent carries the ball during the Iowa vs. Nebraska game on Friday, November 23, 2018. Iowa defeated the Huskers 31-28.

Wyatt Dlouhy

Iowa running back Mehki Sargent carries the ball during the Iowa vs. Nebraska game on Friday, November 23, 2018. Iowa defeated the Huskers 31-28.

Wyatt Dlouhy

Wyatt Dlouhy

Iowa running back Mehki Sargent carries the ball during the Iowa vs. Nebraska game on Friday, November 23, 2018. Iowa defeated the Huskers 31-28.

Adam Hensley, Pregame Editor

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Running backs: B-

This season featured a running-back carousel — head coach Kirk Ferentz flirted with three different starting tailbacks throughout the season — but in the last two games, Mekhi Sargent secured his (rightful) place as the top running back.

It took three tries, but Iowa finally found the back of its future (third time’s a charm, right?)

RELATED: Linebackers report card

Sargent broke through against Illinois on Nov. 17 with 121 yards and 2 touchdowns on 17 carries and capped off his season with 173 yards and a touchdown against Nebraska.

That game against Illinois marked Iowa’s first 100-yard rusher of the season, a good accomplishment for Sargent, who started off the season behind Ivory Kelly-Martin and Toren Young in the backfield rotation.

Sargent finished his season with 748 yards and 9 touchdowns. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry, finishing as Iowa’s best back, statistically. He also caught 16 passes (12 of which came in Iowa’s final five games), proving to be a do-it-all back.

However, that it took Iowa 11 games to get one running back over 100 yards is concerning. All in all, the Hawkeye ground game averaged 162 yards per game, the second-lowest average since 2013.

The Hawkeyes did average 4.2 yards per carry, though. Both the yards per game and yards per carry numbers were up from 2017 — a step in the right direction. But compared with years past, when Iowa’s running game has been truly dominant (such as 2008, 2002, 2001, all seasons in which Iowa had run for at least 175 yards per game and averaged nearly 5 yards per carry), this season was “meh” for the most part.

Young has had his moments in the spotlight, providing a changeup from Sargent. They are different backs, Sargent doing a bit of everything and Young a bulldozer of a tailback.

In the season finale against Nebraska, Sargent and Young combined for 256 yards and 2 touchdowns, the best team effort on the ground by Iowa this season.

“Both our backs ran really well,” Ferentz said after the game. “I thought Toren ran really hard. He always does. A lot of energy. It’s been fun and enjoyable to watch Mekhi continue to grow. You look at him, he doesn’t look anything special, doesn’t look that big, this or that, but the guy is a good player. I think he is deceptively good, deceptively strong when he runs the ball.”

Young came close to topping 100 yards in Iowa’s win over Indiana when he had 96 on the ground. Through 12 games, he averaged 4.7 yards per carry, second-best among the running back trio behind Sargent. He had 630 yards, which also ranked second on the team.

Kelly-Martin, however, proved to be one of the bigger disappointments in Iowa’s backfield — not because of his skills but because he struggled to stay healthy. He appeared in only seven games, and in two of those, he had 5 carries or fewer.

Kelly-Martin’s best outing came in Iowa’s shutout win over Maryland (he came within 2 yards of 100). But after that game, Oct. 20, he appeared in merely three games, registering 18 carries for 62 yards and a touchdown.

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