TEMPE, Ariz. – Marcus Coker started his first season at Iowa with a broken collarbone.
He finished it by fracturing Missouri’s defense.
In between, he ascended from fourth on the depth chart to the primary playmaker for the Hawkeyes Tuesday night in their 27-24 victory against No. 14 Missouri in the Insight Bowl.
Coker capped his rookie season with a performance that likely answered most of those questions about his breakaway speed and ability to carry the load as the featured man in the Iowa backfield.
Carry the load for the Hawkeyes? How about carrying away the game’s offensive most valuable player award along with a collection of records.
Coker ran 33 times for 219 yards and two touchdowns, shattering a school bowl record previously set when Bob Jeter ran for 194 yards in the 1959 Rose Bowl. Not a bad showing for a player who wasn’t supposed to factor heavily into Iowa’s plans at the start of the season.
The Hawkeyes seemed well stocked at running back in August when sophomores Adam Robinson, Brandon Wegher and Jewel Hampton were expected to compete for carries. Coker slipped further down the list of Iowa’s options when he suffered a broken clavicle early in training camp.
“I never would’ve predicted this,” Coker said. “(I figured I’d) just be getting my mental reps and coming back next year.”
Then Wegher left the program, Hampton went down with a season-ending knee injury and the Hawkeyes needed Coker in late September. Then Robinson battled concussions and was later suspended for the Insight Bowl.
That left the Hawkeyes with Coker – who didn’t log his first carry at Iowa until the fourth game of the season – to handle the work in the backfield against Missouri.
“The only drawback with Marcus is he got injured in the third (or) fourth practice of (training camp),” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Monday in a news conference. “That certainly deterred his progress. He has been playing catch-up since the time he returned. But I think he has really done a great job with his opportunities. We’re all confident that he’ll play well.”
Maybe not bowl records and game MVP well.
“We knew he was going to play good, we did not doubt that at all,” Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi said. “He’s been tremendous in practice, he played great earlier in the season and he went off tonight.”
The 6-foot, 230-pound running back from Beltsville, Md., had demonstrated his power during three starts in November. He showcased his speed in the second quarter Tuesday when he accelerated through a cavernous hole created by the right side of Iowa’s offensive line and pulled away from the Missouri secondary for a career-long 62-yard touchdown run.
“It was a huge hole,” Coker said. “I couldn’t believe it. As soon as I saw it, it was just there. The wide receivers were blocking downfield and nobody was around me.”
Coker scored on a 1-yard run in the first quarter. He finished the first half with 16 carries for 113 yards and ran for 70 more in the third quarter, including a 35-yard jaunt when he steamrolled 210-pound safety Jerrell Harrison.
“He runs as hard as any guy I’ve ever seen,” Iowa offensive guard Julian Vandervelde said. “He’s got the speed, he’s got the talent, the ability. He runs the Iowa football style (as a) running back. He runs downhill and he trucks people, and I love it.”
It was that type of physical running that attracted the Hawkeyes to Coker when he starred at DeMatha Catholic High School near Baltimore. Coker picked Iowa over scholarship offers from Kansas State, Maryland, Minnesota and Wake Forest.
“We were really excited about him when we recruited him,” Ferentz said. “I think he is probably a good example of the kind of player that we hope to get in our program. … We didn’t have to beat the world to get him when he committed to us, and then I think as a senior maybe he played a little bit better than that. He stayed with his commitment and we were really thrilled about that.”
Coker was surrounded by reporters late Tuesday night near the spot on the field where he scored his first touchdown. It was the Iowa media’s first crack at talking to him. Ferentz keeps true freshmen off-limits to reporters, but Coker attracted cameras and voice recorders.
Somebody in the crowd asked him about job security and whether he thought Tuesday’s performance solidified his role with the Hawkeyes.
“Never,” Coker said. “There’s always somebody else coming up.”
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football