Iowa running backs look to share success this season

The Hawkeyes will start the season with a running back by committee, which is by no means a bad thing.


Katina Zentz

Iowa running back Toren Young runs the ball during the Iowa/Purdue game at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette, Ind. on Saturday, November 3, 2018. The Boilermakers defeated the Hawkeyes 38-36.

Robert Read, Assistant Sports Editor

The term “running back by committee” tends to have a negative vibe attached to it. The assumption is that a team does not have a clear-cut No. 1 running back to give a full slate of touches to and is forced to split up carries.

Some teams don’t have starting-caliber running back. In Iowa’s case, it just has too many.

The Hawkeyes will begin the 2019-20 football season with a committee taking hand-offs out of the backfield. The committee will be led by a pair of junior running backs: Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young.

Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is pleased with where the position is right now and is confident both Sargent and Young will be playmakers for this year’s Hawkeye team.

“It’s a really good room,” Ferentz said. “We’ve got a really good room of backs right now. Both guys have improved a great deal. I really think they were better players in the spring than they were last fall, and I think we’ve seen growth and improvement this August, as well.”

That improvement may in part be due to the new philosophy the position group has adopted for watching film.

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Running backs coach Derrick Foster wanted his players to change the way they look at tape, diving deeper into each play.

The results have been beneficial thus far.

“Sometimes, as running backs when you watch film, you just watch yourself,” Young said. “Now we’re talking about the blockers and how the offensive line is going to block things up, different looks the defensive line is going to give us, the front they are, in things like that.”

This additional knowledge of what is happening on the field around them on any given play has helped the position group anticipate what’s coming at them and how to deal with it in order to gain more yards.

“We have an idea of what’s going to happen,” Sargent said. “From there, athletic ability plays its part. We just make plays after that.”

Sargent returns for Iowa this year after being the team’s leader in rushing yards (745) and rushing touchdowns (10) a year ago.

Sargent posted a career-high 173 yards rushing in the regular-season finale against Nebraska last year and has focused on continuing to improve — and the competition at the running back position has helped him do that.

“The competition in the running back room is unbelievable,” Sargent said. “We need that. I feel like if you don’t have any competition, you’re basically just patting yourself on the back and feeling like you’re safe. I feel like to be our best individually, we need to compete with one another.”

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Both Young and Sargent will see their share of touches for the Hawkeye offense this season. Other backs like Ivory Kelly-Martin will see their share of touches as well.

For Sargent, that is a necessity to have success, especially given the conference his team is in.

“We’re in the Big Ten; it is going to take more than one running back to win the game,” Sargent said. “We are not selfish guys, it’s a brotherhood in there. We have a camaraderie. We are just trying to win games and get to where we want to be: the Big Ten Championship.”