By Adam Hensley
With the No. 4 team in the country headed to Kinnick for a prime-time Saturday face-off, there’s no doubt in Iowa’s mind whether it needs to be at full strength.
But Iowa will be without a key offensive component for its game against Penn State.
James Butler, a graduate transfer from Nevada and the other half of Iowa’s one-two punch in the ground game, will not play Saturday after suffering an injury in the third quarter of the Hawkeyes’ 31-14 victory over the Mean Green on Sept. 16.
In Kirk Ferentz’s weekly Sunday conversation with Hawkeyesports.com, the head coach indicated the extent of Butler’s injury.
“I think for sure, James will be out at least through the bye week,” Ferentz said. “It’s going to be a couple weeks here before we get him back.”
Butler took a handoff outside the left tackle with a little more than eight minutes remaining in the third quarter. A North Texas defender wrapped the tailback up, and Butler reached out his right arm to brace himself, resulting in an awkward landing.
Before leaving the game, Butler put up his best performance as a Hawkeye.
Butler racked up 74 yards on 16 carries (4.6 yards per carry). His longest run netted 12 yards, and he also forced and recovered a fumble in the third quarter.
Earlier in the game, another Iowa back, Akrum Wadley, fell victim to the injury bug.
The senior from Newark, New Jersey, tweaked his ankle in the first half, but his injury is not as serious as Butler’s.
“I think everybody [except Butler] else has an opportunity to be ready by midweek, if not sooner,” Ferentz said in an interview with Hawkeyesports.com.
Wadley totaled only 26 yards on the ground, but he gained 80 through the air, with the majority coming on a 68-yard catch-and-run on Iowa’s opening drive (Wadley scored on the play, but an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty set the offense back 15 yards from the spot of the foul) and disallowed the score.
Ferentz was not overly concerned about Wadley’s status following the North Texas game.
“Akrum tried to walk out without an ice bag, so sent him back in for that, but it doesn’t look like anything serious,” he said postgame.
The team was not confident about inserting Wadley back into contact in the second half, he said.
Butler and Wadley’s departures gave two young backs, redshirt freshman Toren Young and freshman Ivory Kelly-Martin, an opportunity to shine in front of a national audience.
Together, Young and Kelly-Martin ran for 152 yards and a pair of touchdowns (both coming from Kelly-Martin).
“We got a good running-back group,” Young said. “There’s two really good backs in front of me, so I’m learning. They always tell me when my number is called to be ready.”
Ferentz classifies the pair of fresh faces as two backs with different styles — Young relies on downhill power running, while Kelly-Martin lives on the edge with speed and elusiveness.
But come Saturday, Iowa will have its hands full against Penn State — regardless of injuries.
“If we want to do well in the Big Ten, and compete well, we know that we’re going to have to improve,” tight end Noah Fant said.
The Nittany Lions allowed only 14 points during their nonconference games, and the Hawkeyes will need a solid running game to not only keep the defense honest but to relieve pressure for QB Nate Stanley.
Questions remain about how much work Wadley will be able to put in against Penn State.
Without Butler, Iowa’s two-headed monster transforms into a tailback trifecta, as fans may see Wadley, Young, and Kelly-Martin splitting carries on Saturday.