And the Next Man In is...

Aug. 31, 2012

CHICAGO — Iowa fans are eager for answers heading into tomorrow’s season opener.

What will the offense look like under first-year offensive coordinator Greg Davis? Who is going to be the new fan favorite on the defensive line? And who is going to be the backfield horse that takes the handoff from quarterback James Vandenberg?

The answer to that third question might come pretty quick. In nine of head coach Kirk Ferentz’s 13 seasons, the player who records the first carry of the season has finished the year as the team’s leading rusher. And, of course, the Hawkeyes love starting with the ball. Iowa has started on offense in 83-percent of its games under Ferentz.

So who will it be? Which of the five Hawkeyes listed on the backfield depth chart will take the first handoff?

“I have no idea,” said junior Brad Rogers, the veteran among the group, “and I don’t think it matters. It could go either way. You have a bunch of young guys and veteran guys, and everyone needs to be prepared. From the true freshmen to the senior. Everyone has to come in and do it at both positions, fullback and tailback.”

Rogers has to be prepared as much as anyone. The Toledo, Ohio, native shared the top line of the depth chart at both running back and fullback when training camp opened. But recent signs indicate he may see the majority of his snaps at fullback, a position he started at seven times last season. Either way, Rogers says he’ll be ready.

“Fullback or running back, I don’t really have a preference,” said Rogers. “Coach has talked about playing both, and I can go in there either way.”

Of the nine Hawkeyes who have recorded the season’s first carry and went on to lead the team in rushing, Ladell Betts (2000, 2001), Fred Russell (2002, 2003), and Albert Young (2006, 2007) each did it twice.

This year’s running back depth chart features sophomore Damon Bullock and true freshmen Greg Garmon and Michael Malloy, so it’s possible Hawkeye fans may find their next long-term bell cow very soon. What’s certain is the story could go in a number of directions.

Bullock is listed as the No. 1 tailback, and a Hawkeye sophomore has led the team in rushing five times under Ferentz, including each of the last two seasons. No freshman in school history has ever led the team in single-season rushing yards, so a quick handoff to Garmon or Malloy could forecast an Iowa first. And, of course, the opening carry could go to Rogers or sophomore Mark Weisman, who at a combined 445 pounds could pile up a number of black-and-blue yards.

The answer may not come until the end of the bowl season, but Hawkeye fans could get a peak, or at least take a guess, shortly after tomorrow’s 2:30 (CT) kickoff inside Chicago’s Soldier Field.