IOWA CITY, Ia. — A year after injuries disrupted his junior season, Jordan Canzeri has suddenly become the rock of Iowa's 2015 running game.
Starter LeShun Daniels Jr. is injured. Akrum Wadley comes with a ball-security disclaimer. And Derrick Mitchell Jr. has yet to see the field after various issues.
But thankfully for the 2-0 Hawkeyes, Canzeri was there for them in Saturday's 31-17 win at Iowa State. He carried the ball a career-high 24 times for 124 yards and a touchdown, almost all coming after Daniels suffered a right-ankle injury that might keep him out of this Saturday's 7:12 p.m. game against Pittsburgh (2-0).
The term "rock" fits Canzeri's character more than his 5-foot-9, 192-pound frame. He's been at Iowa seemingly forever. His previous career high in carries dates to the 2011 Insight Bowl, with 22 as a true freshman.
Saturday, after losing a fumble inside Iowa State's 10-yard line in the fourth quarter of a 17-all game, Canzeri had leading receiver Matt VandeBerg in his ear, offering him encouragement and Scripture (specifically, Joshua 1:9).
"It just talks about God commanding us to trust in him and have courage and not to be afraid, and don't have any fear," Canzeri said. "That's exactly what I needed to hear in the moment. … It just gave me that peace I really needed to finish the game strong."
Teammate Matt VandeBerg gave Canzeri a word of encouragement after he fumbled inside the Iowa State 10-yard line Saturday in a 17-17 game. Canzeri and the Hawkeyes responded with two late TDs in a 31-17 win. Chad Leistikow | Hawkcentral.com
Canzeri has been involved in Athletes in Action, a Christian ministry to help students deal with the stresses of playing college sports, since arriving at Iowa as an 18-year-old from Troy, N.Y. They meet on Monday nights, and Canzeri ticked off a slew of athletes from other sports that are involved — familiar names include basketball players Mike Gesell and Ally Disterhoft and wrestler Nathan Burak.
Canzeri said it's that fellowship that helps remind him not to worry about trying to impress his family, the fans, his teammates or even coaches.
"We emphasize a lot playing for an audience of one," Canzeri said, "playing just for the glory of God."
With Daniels iffy, it's possible that Canzeri will be in Saturday's prime-time spotlight in Iowa's first home night game since 2012. Head coach Kirk Ferentz wasn't committal in who would be first off the bench if Canzeri is the workhorse, saying it would be "all hands on deck."
It could be Wadley, who has three lost fumbles in 36 career carries (including against Illinois State) and has struggled with weight control, or Mitchell (who is working his way back into the mix after being reinstated to the program following a brief code-of-conduct suspension). Redshirt freshman Marcel Joly is behind them, and the plan is for true freshman Eric Graham to redshirt.
Wadley has flashed play-making ability, recording a 106-yard game in his debut last year against Northwestern.
"The real challenge (for Wadley) is to minimize those mistakes that are costly," Ferentz said. "It's one thing when a defensive tackle jumps offside for five yards. It's another thing when you turn the ball over.
"Just a responsibility that comes with being that guy. Or in blitz pickup, too. A lot of times that's a problem younger players have. But I think he's doing a good job there. It's just that ball security. To me, it's all concentration. But he's working hard at it, and he's committed to getting better."
The most carries Canzeri has ever gotten in back-to-back games is 32 (in 2013), so this could be an uncharted workload for a guy who Ferentz said just "wasn't right" in 2014, injury-wise. Canzeri also missed the entire 2012 season following a major knee injury in spring practice.
Canzeri is ready if he gets his third career start Saturday.
"Since I was a freshman, we always emphasize 'Next Man In' and just being ready for it," Canzeri said. "And even though I'm already playing and in the rotation, you still have the mentality that anything can happen.
"Once you have that mindset, you're … ready for those opportunities when they come."