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Harty: Ferentz should redshirt Mika’il McCall

[ 8 ] November 15, 2011 |

Having never met Iowa running back Mika’il McCall, it’s impossible to judge him as a person.

But he sure seems unselfish if he is still willing to play this season as a true freshman, which has been indicated by Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz.

It would be justifiable for McCall to pass on returning this late in the season because that would allow him to take a redshirt instead of burning it for the sake of participating in probably three games at the most.

McCall only played in the first half of the Sept. 4 season opener against Tennessee Tech, but he caused a stir by rushing for 61 yards on nine carries before injuring his ankle. It was thought at the time that McCall would miss the rest of the season and take a redshirt, giving him four seasons of eligibility.

But he proved to be a quick healer, and for the past three weeks, Ferentz has said that he wants to play McCall, but Ferentz hasn’t been able to convince himself to use McCall once the game starts.

Ferentz’s next opportunity to use the 6-foot, 215-pound McCall will be in Saturday’s game at Purdue.

Ferentz was asked Tuesday at his weekly news gathering if he was waiting for Iowa to get a little bit of a lead before inserting McCall.

Ferentz then showed in his vintage self-deprecating style that he hasn’t lost his sense of humor.

“Well, if that’s the case, he may not play,” Ferentz said. “I don’t know what I can tell you. We’ll see how it plays out.”

The circumstances in each of the past three games since McCall received medical clearance haven’t been ideal for the usually conservative and cautious Ferentz to change things up.

Iowa is coming off a 37-21 loss to Michigan State in a game in which it trailed from start to finish. The week before, Iowa held on to defeat Michigan 24-16 at home. And the week before that, Iowa lost at Minnesota 22-21.

McCall dressed for all three of those games, but he didn’t play.

My hunch is that McCall, who is from Dolton, Ill., won’t play again this season because why would he want to use up one of his four seasons of eligibility to be the backup behind sophomore starter Marcus Coker for two or three games?

“I can’t say what’s best for him,” senior cornerback Shaun Prater said. “It’s something he has to decide for himself.”

It would be noble and unselfish for McCall to play this season but also a waste because it’s not like McCall would share the workload with Coker.

And it’s not like Coker has done anything wrong to have to share the position with somebody who hasn’t played since the season opener and who before that had never played in a college game.

Coker enters Saturday’s game against Purdue averaging 115.8 rushing yards per game, which is ranked second in the Big Ten behind Wisconsin running back Montee Ball’s 124.2 per-game average.

“That’s a factor,” Ferentz said of Coker’s productivity. “So we’ll just play it out and see what happens. But he may not play. But we’re open to it.”

The biggest factor should be what McCall wants to do. Actually, that should be the only factor, and Ferentz knows that.

Football is described by many as the ultimate team sport, but there are times when you have to watch out for No. 1.

Now if McCall wants to play and is willing to sacrifice more than one half of his freshman season, then let him play.

“I think he’s a team first guy,” Ferentz said. “So I think that’s how he looks at it.”

Ferentz is in a tough situation talking about McCall because even if Ferentz has decided to redshirt McCall, to say it publicly might seem like Ferentz is giving up on the season.

But on the other hand, it’s easy for Ferentz to keep telling the media that he wants to play McCall even if the decision already has been made not to play him.

Sometimes, being misleading is part of a strategy. This could be one of those times.

Coker had a similar decision to make last season as a true freshman, and he chose to play down the stretch despite missing six of the first seven games with an injury.

“My whole motivation when I was hurt was to come back and play,” Coker said.

It’s hard to tell what McCall’s motivation is because Ferentz prohibits his true freshmen from speaking to the media.

And unlike Coker, who started contributing in the eighth game last season and even more so after starting running back Adam Robinson was suspended from the team, McCall is heading into the 11th game without having played since the season opener.

McCall should qualify for a redshirt under NCAA rules if he doesn’t play again this season.

It would make more sense to redshirt McCall, especially because Ferentz is so reluctant to use him at this stage.

Iowa already has two true freshmen running backs who barely play, but Jordan Canzeri and Damon Bullock don’t have the option of redshirting anymore because they’ve already appeared in too many games under NCAA rules.

Why take that option away from McCall at this stage?

This is one time when Ferentz should think beyond this week.

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Pat Harty: Columnist Pat Harty has been covering the Iowa Hawkeyes for the Press-Citizen since 1991. Originally from Des Moines, he currently writes columns and covers Hawkeye men's basketball for Hawk Central. View author profile.

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