NCAA Football

Iowa looking for line to open more holes for backs in '19

By LUKE MEREDITH

AP Sports Writer

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Iowa offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz believes that the Hawkeyes' blockers - and not necessarily their running backs - will need to improve next fall for the program to rediscover the running game.

The Hawkeyes, long known as a team that likes to soften up opponents on the ground early before breaking off big gains in the second half, averaged just 3.95 yards per carry last season.

But while a lot of the blame for that shaky performance went to the trio of Mekhi Sargent, Toren Young and Ivory Kelly-Martin, Ferentz placed most of it on a line that all too often struggled to open holes in the running game.

Iowa (9-4 in 2018) closes spring practice on Friday. It hosts Miami (Ohio) in its opener on Aug. 31.

I "wish I could get up here and give you a scientific answer," Ferentz said about Iowa's lack of potent plays a year ago.

"Coaches are pretty insecure by nature. We have to justify the job we have. They pay us a lot of money to come in here and coach a children's game. It's simple. It's really simple. We need to block better."

Should Iowa's line, highlighted by potential NFL draft picks Alaric Jackson and Tristan Wirfs at tackle, get to where it needs to be by September, the Hawkeyes should have a chance to improve on an attack that never popped a run longer than 40 yards a year ago.

Sargent had 294 yards and three touchdowns - and perhaps most importantly, on nearly 7 yards a carry - in Iowa's final two regular-season games.

Young, who at 5-foot-11 and 220 pounds looks the part of an old-school Big Ten back, ran for 636 yards on 4.7 yards a carry and never fumbled.

Kelly-Martin, who averaged 18.5 attempts in his first four games before injuries took their toll, finished with 341 yards but on a paltry 3.5 yards per carry. Ivory-Martin missed time this spring after offseason ankle surgery, but he returned to practice for the back end of spring workouts.

Iowa will likely get all three of those backs multiple carries next September and let the situation settle itself based on production.

"We feel really good about the guys we have. Mekhi continues to grow. Toren Young continues to grow. Both those guys have done a lot of things this spring that maybe I didn't think they were at the level to do as recently as December," Ferentz said.

"With the top three guys, I think they each have their individual strengths ... the challenge would be making sure that we cater to their individual strengths."

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Updated April 23, 2019