Looking at the LeShun Daniels Jr and Akrum Wadley running back duo
Leading up to week one it was known that the Hawkeyes had two solid running backs in their backfield. Iowa slated LeShun Daniels Jr as the starter but many expected Akrum Wadley to have a sizable role, as well. It held true as Daniels got the first carry of the season, but Wadley rushed the ball 12 times compared to Daniels 10.
Considering the injury history Daniels has faced during his time as a Hawkeye, it could have been a strategic move from Kirk Ferentz to make sure he stays healthy the whole season. As the season progresses we will get a better idea of how Ferentz will use his two running backs. Either way, Wadley and Daniels will both see significant playing time.
A lot of the top teams in the nation have one feature back, however having two running backs sharing carries does work. Change of pace backs can be very effective if used right.
The Oklahoma Sooners showed that last season as Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon each rushed for over 750 yards in 2015. Even Alabama had Kenyan Drake rush 77 times in 2015 while also being used as a receiver out of the backfield, despite Derrick Henry rushing for 2,219 yards and winning the Heisman.
Granted LeShun Daniels and Akrum Wadley are nowhere near the level of those running back duos, Iowa does have a special combo on hand. Their differing styles of running will make it even harder for teams to stop the Hawkeyes run game.
Daniels isn’t a bruiser, per say, but he’s not afraid of contact. He’ll take it up the middle and is the perfect goal line back for the Hawkeyes. His 6-0, 225 pound frame is perfect for short yard situations. That was evident in week one when Daniels rushed for the Hawkeyes first touchdown of the season from a yard out.
On the other hand, Wadley is more of a speed back and can be used as a receiver out of the backfield. He’s only 5-11 and 191 pounds, and he can fly once he gets in the open field. With his 11 and five yard touchdown runs, Wadley was able to take it outside and simply outrun the defense.
Miami (OH) had no solution for his speed, as he averaged 10.1 yards per carry. Plus, Wadley caught three passes for 21 yards, tying for the second most receptions on the Hawkeyes. Simply put, Wadley has big play ability. If that wasn’t evident after his four touchdown game against Northwestern last year, the many times he will find the end zone in 2016 should make it perfectly clear.
Despite Wadley being more elusive and faster than Daniels, the great thing about the Hawkeyes running back duo is that both can break a big run at any time. Daniels had the longest run of the game for the Hawkeyes in week one with a 43-yard run. The big play ability that both backs have forces defender to stay on their toes, especially when their skill sets are so unique.
When it comes down to it, both could be feature backs on plenty of teams around the country. Luckily for Iowa, they have both and it adds a lot of versatility to their offense. The Hawkeyes ran the ball 29 times in week one, and that’s considered a low number for them. Having two capable running backs will keep them fresher for longer during the game and season, as well as opening up many opportunities for the Hawkeyes on offense.
Sure, it was only one week, but Wadley has proven in the past and in week one that he can be the pass catching back to replace Jordan Canzeri from a year ago. As good of a runner as Daniels is, he’s not a great receiving running back. He has caught just three passes in 25 career games. Canzeri has always been the Hawkeyes option on passing downs.
The Hawkeyes could face problems if either gets hurt, though. The great thing about the Canzeri – Daniels duo last season was that Akrum Wadley was the third string back if either got hurt. Iowa will have to turn to an inexperienced Derrick Mitchell Jr this season, who had just 25 carries in 2015. Mitchell did rush for 12 yards and a touchdown on two carries during garbage time in week one, however it’s unknown how he’d fare in a bigger role.
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With Jordan Canzeri graduated, the Hawkeyes had questions surrounding the running back position. Whether it was health or the production they would get from Wadley and Daniels. Hopefully Daniels doesn’t face more injury problems this season.
Although, Wadley looks to be a perfect fit as the pass catching and change of pace back for the Hawkeyes.
The Hawkeyes don’t need Akrum Wadley to be Jordan Canzeri, they just need him to be Akrum Wadley. It may sound cheesy but Wadley is an explosive back and the junior running back could be in for a huge couple of seasons. If he continues to run well then there’s no reason he shouldn’t be considered one of the most complete backs in the Big Ten.
Even though he saw more carries in week one, I don’t think it’s telling for the rest of the season. Daniels still averaged 8.3 yards per carry and Ferentz will likely turn to the hot hand every week. Both should see at least 10 carries per game in a run heavy offense, but the differing styles allows Ferentz to pick apart the opposing team’s defense easier.