IOWA CITY — There were times during Saturday’s game against Penn State when Akrum Wadley felt like he was spinning his wheels.
At times, he was.
Ten carries into his start at running back against the Nittany Lions, Iowa’s leading rusher had gained a total of zero yards.
“It was frustrating, seemed like I couldn’t get anything going,” Wadley said.
Penn State defended the Hawkeyes with plenty of blitzes and an approach to take away the bread and butter of the Iowa offensive attack, the zone run plays that are traditionally at the core of whatever success happens when a Hawkeye back carries the ball.
It was the same approach Iowa dealt with during its 3-0 nonconference start.
Opponents are attempting to stop the Hawkeyes at the point of attack and Iowa is preparing for more of the same in Saturday’s 3 p.m. game at Michigan State.
“We know they’re going to be aggressive, just like Penn State was,’’ Wadley said. “They’ll be physical, that’s what they do, and they’ll get to the ball quick. They’re going to try to do what Penn State tried to do and take our run away.’’
That puts a premium on patience.
“You have to keep working at it, trust that the calls the coaches are making will get the job done,’’ quarterback Nate Stanley said.
That played out late in the fourth quarter of last week’s 21-19 loss to Penn State when the outside zone play Iowa had called for Wadley to run to the left intersected with a shift to the right by Nittany Lions linebackers ready to blitz.
The result was a 35-yard touchdown run by Wadley opened by key blocks from Alaric Jackson and Ross Reynolds on the left side of the line that gave Iowa the lead with 1 minute, 42 seconds left in the game.
Stanley said he worked to avoid the temptation of straying from the game plan, remaining committed to making it work.
“With the defense playing as well as it did, that builds some confidence that the game plan is working and that we were going to be able to do what we do and have success with it,’’ Stanley said. “The situation we were in, it was easy to stick with the plan and execute it.’’
That won’t change against a Michigan State defense that hasn’t lined up across from a Big Ten offense yet this season, but the Spartans have limited opponents to 121.7 rushing yards per game during their 2-1 start.
Michigan State limited Western Michigan to 116 yards on the ground one week after the Broncos piled up 263 in a game at Southern California and last week, Notre Dame’s 182 rushing yards were 149 yards below the Irish’s early-season average.
Five of the Big Ten’s top seven defenses in stopping the run are on the Hawkeyes’ schedule this season, with the Spartans currently filling that seventh slot while allowing 3.7 yards per carry.
Coach Kirk Ferentz said he isn’t too caught up in the numbers game right now, saying it remains too early for statistics to carry much meaning.
“Other than turnovers, that means something, and we’re finally even there. That’s a good thing,’’ Ferentz said. “That was a big concern and hopefully the worst is behind us, but there are no guarantees there. There are certain things you watch at this point, but we’re still so early in the season.’’