Earl, Walter... Marcus?

Nov. 11, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — University of Iowa sophomore running back Marcus Coker’s mother introduced him to highlight films of NFL Hall of Famers Earl Campbell and Walter Payton when he was a youngster.

Now Coker is living out what he saw.

“My mom was a huge football fan, and she loved that type of running,” said Coker. “I definitely have a different running style, but they were both physical.”

Coker, who dons No. 34 in honor of Campbell, Payton and “a little bit of Ricky Williams at Texas,” came to Iowa to follow in the footsteps of another punishing runner — former Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene.

“That’s what kind of running back I am, Shonn Greene,” said Coker. “The way he ran is definitely one of those things that I wanted to do. Iowa has the greatest chance of making me into one of those backs.”

This season, Coker has put up numbers to rank as one of the elite running backs in the nation. He is leading the Big Ten Conference and ranks sixth nationally with 122.3 yards per game. Since Oct. 15, Coker is leading the country with 647 yards and 161.8 yards per contest.

“Once he gets his wheels turning a little bit, he seems to build and build and build,” said junior quarterback James Vandenberg. “I think we’ve seen that the last three weeks. He’s been running a little possessed, not letting one guy bring him down.”

Coker rushed for 124 yards on 22 carries against Northwestern, 139 yards on 23 carries against Indiana; 252 yards on 32 carries at Minnesota and 132 yards on 29 carries against Michigan.

It comes as no coincidence that Coker’s surge corresponded with the return of sophomore fullback Brad Rogers.

“When I see there is one extra guy (in the box), that’s something I don’t have to worry about,” said Coker. “I can follow him (Rogers) right behind any hole, and I know it’s going to be open.”

This week, Coker and the Iowa offense will face a stiff challenge against a Michigan State defense that leads the Big Ten in passing defense (145.9) and total defense (249.4) and second in rushing defense (103.6). It also ranks among the top-20 nationally in six categories.

“They play the run well,” said Vandenberg. “They’re going to press you up in the pass game every time and not give you anything easy.”

Vandenberg knows Saturday’s showdown against the Legends-leading Spartans will be a dogfight to the end. Iowa has won four of the last five in the series, but a pair of those games were decided by a field goal or less, and the 2007 contest went into double overtime.

“It’s two really good programs in the Big Ten,” said Vandenberg. “We’ve had some really close battles those first two years I was here, and last year we were able to get the better of them. Whenever you line up against another really good program, it’s going to be a battle.”

Saturday’s game is set to begin at 11:01 a.m. (CT), and be televised on ESPN2 with Beth Mowins and Mike Bellotti calling the action. The Hawkeyes will honor 18 players and a total of 29 senior members of the program prior to opening kickoff.