IOWA CITY, Ia. – An infusion of freshman potential is circulating through the Iowa football roster.
Desmond King locked down a starting spot at cornerback weeks ago. Reggie Spearman is getting more snaps at linebacker. And it’s looking like LeShun Daniels is capable of carrying a greater load at running back.
“It’s not like (Daniels) is on a field trip, but he kind of looks like that all the time,” Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz said last week. “Doesn’t matter where he’s at, he’s not overwhelmed by things or impressed, just in a very low-key, humble way.”
Ferentz is not the only coach who is traditionally leery of relying on first-year players, but Iowa is in no position to be picky.
It’s time to accelerate this youth movement — starting with Saturday’s 11 a.m. showdown with Wisconsin.
The Badgers (5-2) are making their first visit to Kinnick Stadium since 2010, and the Hawkeyes (5-3) can use a lack of familiarity to their advantage.
Defensive tinkering added intrigue to last weekend’s 17-10 overtime win against Northwestern.
It gave the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Spearman a chance to show what he could do in passing situations.
He finished with two tackles, slicing through blockers for a second-quarter takedown on third-and-15 that forced a Wildcats punt.
King, a 5-11, 185-pound native of Detroit, was front and center for two pivotal moments.
First, he recovered a fumble with 3:14 left in the fourth quarter, preventing Northwestern from potentially taking a lead. Then, he slammed into tailback Stephen Buckley, causing a third-down incompletion on the Wildcats’ only possession of overtime.
“He’s a confident player,” Ferentz said of King. “Maybe sometimes too confident.”
None of King’s swagger, however, is rubbing teammates the wrong way.
“It was pretty apparent to me, just watching our offseason workouts, he was someone who had natural coverage ability,” linebacker James Morris said. “Typically, in the past, if you have some of that, you play pretty early.”
Youth is typically volatile. It can propel a team beyond expectations or become a speed bump.
King experiences both extremes. Spearman shows the kind of quickness that makes your adrenaline pump. He also has a tendency to over-pursue.
But for Iowa, the stakes are relatively low (a soft schedule put Michigan State in a good position to win the Big Ten’s Legends Division) and the possible rewards are high (the Hawkeyes have already surpassed last year’s win total with Wisconsin, Purdue, Michigan and Nebraska remaining this season).
So why not loosen the training wheels on Daniels?
Yes, he fumbled against Western Michigan. He also runs with a burst that seems to be lacking in Iowa’s offense.
“He’s done a good job,” Ferentz said. “We’ve got four backs that we feel good with. You can only get so many carries per guy.”
The Hawkeyes’ rushing attack is beginning to stall, averaging 3.4 yards per carry in the last three games.
Mark Weisman is showing the wear and tear of his 149 carries and 732 yards. Damon Bullock is a dependable, but less punishing backup.
The 6-foot, 215-pound Daniels — averaging 4.1 yards on 26 rushes this season — is an X-factor.
He doesn’t have to be a workhorse, but let him roam a little.
King and Spearman have already set a solid pace.
Andrew Logue covers Hawkeye football and sports media for the Register. Follow him on Twitter: @AndrewMLogue.
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football