TEMPE, Ariz. - Eric Dickerson and Steven Jackson heard it for years. Their pad level was too high and they’d be undone by a collision with a defender.
Dickerson ended up in the NFL Hall of Fame. Jackson has produced big numbers in the NFL during the last half decade.
Sometimes conventional wisdom doesn’t apply.
Iowa Running Back Marcus Coker likely will criticisms about his pad level going forward. Yes, true freshman, you rambled for school bowl records of 33 carries for 219 yards in Tuesday night’s Insight Bowl. But, man, you’re going to get hurt running that way.
“He needs to run lower or he’s going to get his ribs broken,” Iowa Guard Julian Vandervelde said.
Perhaps Coker adjusts his style. But it’s tough to make wholesale changes to a guy that’s been as productive as this Maryland native.
Coker didn’t even see the field until Week 7. He was injured in training camp and came into the season at least in the No. 4 spot on the running back depth chart. Health issues and other situations at the position opened the door. He ran with the opportunity, literally.
“I already knew before the game that the O-Line was going to do a great job,” the soft-spoken Coker said. “I was pretty comfortable after a couple of plays. I felt like I was a little more comfortable than I was before that.”
The DeMatha High product rushed for 622 yards on 114 carries (5.5 YPC) in seven games, three as the starter. In one of the starts (Ohio State), he didn’t play a major role because leading rusher Adam Robinson came into the contest after a first quarter suspension.
“You never know what can happen with this season,” Iowa Receiver Marvin McNutt said. “Coker learned and he played well (Tuesday night). We told ourselves as an offense that we wanted to put it together and dominate. I think we did a good job of controlling the football for the most part.
Coker showed an impressive mix of power and speed on Tuesday. He broke off a 62-yard touchdown run. Later, he leveled a defensive back, running over him for a nice gain.
“We hoped to run the football,” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “I don’t think you ever expect your back to have (219) yards. We said back in August that Marcus would be a great player for us. (Tuesday) was certainly his best outing, his best performance and he is a tremendous young man. So, just really proud of him.”
Iowa’s offensive line also played its best game of the season. And coordinator Ken O’Keefe really schooled his side of the ball in what to expect from an aggressive Missouri defense.
Coker got loose in the second level a lot because Iowa Quarterback Ricky Stanzi and the blockers did an excellent job of run blitz recognition. The freshman more than a few times sidestepped the pressure and got loose.
“He got a lot of help from guys like (fullback) Brett Morse, the offensive line, the tight ends, receivers blocking, Rick Stanzi getting him in the right place,” Ferentz said. “It was just a team effort. We felt like we needed him to run the ball for us to have a chance in this one.”
For the third year in a row, Iowa has produced a strong freshman running back from Jewel Hampton to Robinson and Brandon Wegher to Coker. The transferring of two of them and the potential dismissal of Robinson could mean it’s Coker’s show going forward.
“It’s bizarre how we keep recruiting and coming up with these running backs,” Vandervelde said. “Maybe they’re not the biggest recruits coming out of high school, but they get here, are thrown into game situations and they just play their balls off. They do everything that we ask them to do. They do it at such a high level and Marcus is the epitome of that.”