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281 carries gone, now what?

Marc Morehouse, The Gazette, Cedar Rapids, Iowa

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Coaches don’t wring their hands over things that aren’t in their control.

So, when Iowa offensive coordinator Ken O’Keefe was informed that running back Marcus Coker — and his 1,384 yards and his 15 touchdowns and his 281 carries — was suspended from the Insight Bowl, he shrugged it off.

Really, there’s no choice. Hand wringing isn’t going to get it done. A worried coach is a coach without a plan and, eventually, a fired coach.

“It doesn’t even enter your mind,” O’Keefe said from Iowa’s practice Monday. “I’m not sure I would’ve known it was 281 carries if you didn’t tell me. It’s not available, so it doesn’t matter.”

How this shapes Iowa’s offense for the Insight Bowl is the question.

O’Keefe expects the first quarter to be exploration, seeing what Oklahoma might do. He said there are some definite things the Sooners like to do on third down, mainly pressure out of a 3-4 alignment, a very NFL approach. It’s worked, too. OU is third in the nation holding opponents to 30.17 percent on third down conversions.

Iowa’s offense will change. Coker was the running game, period.

This points toward quarterback James Vandenberg and wide receivers Marvin McNutt and Keenan Davis.

Yes, Iowa, the school with the reputation for producing O-linemen, could find itself depending on speed athletes to make a difference in the Insight.

“Oklahoma, they’re all athletes back there, but we’re athletes, too,” junior wide receiver Keenan Davis said. “That’s how we have to come into this. We’re grinding, too.”

Davis, who has 45 catches for 637 yards and four TDs this season, used the word “athletes.” That word has been attached to Oklahoma. It’s not often associated with the Hawkeyes.

Maybe that’s the challenge for Iowa, win this with athletes.

“That’s the fun thing,” said Davis, a UI athlete from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “We like being the underdogs when it comes to things like that. We like people saying we don’t have athletes or that we’re not an athletic team.

“We love to hear that. We know what we have, we know we have athletes. We have guys who could play anywhere. That’s what keeps us going and keeps us playing.”

McNutt is a Hawkeye who could play anywhere. He has the numbers to back that up, too (1,269 receiving yards, 78 receptions and 12 TDs).

“It’s the Iowa way,” McNutt said. “Since this thing has started, they’ve put a lot of offensive linemen in the NFL. It’s not something that stays in the backs of our minds. We’re all Division I college football players and that’s what it’s about.”

When asked if the bowl sets up to flow through Iowa’s passing game, O’Keefe said it depends on the gameplan.

“Oklahoma is the challenge,” O’Keefe said. “Great athletes, great speed everywhere. We’ve got to play mistake-free football and play physical every snap.”

O’Keefe and Ferentz didn’t discount the idea of Iowa using the no-huddle, but they also pointed out that the Sooners’ defense practices against one of the fastest-paced no-huddle offenses in college football.

“Nobody runs it faster than Oklahoma. They’ve got the fastest offense we’ve seen,” Ferentz said. “If we use it, it won’t be something that’ll rattle their cage at all. They’ll probably be back there yawning they see it in practice so much. You never know, if it fits, it fits.

“We’d probably be more apt to run the football, but right now, if we do it, it’s going to have to be more by committee, I think.”

Iowa has run some empty backfield this season with four receivers and a running back in a spread look out of the shotgun. Roughly, this is about five percent of the Hawkeyes’ offense, probably less, any given game.

So, someone is playing running back. And there will likely be more than one someone, including Jason White, Jordan Canzeri, Damon Bullock and Brad Rogers.

O’Keefe threw out the “hot hand” theory, but it doesn’t sound as though anything is stapled in the playbook, which has had a hole blown in it in the absence of Coker and his 281 carries.

“You have to move forward, there’s no other way,” O’Keefe said. “You don’t even blink. You don’t even think about it, you just keep moving forward.”

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