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Leistikow: With Tyler Goodson at No. 1, Iowa's running-backs room best since 2017

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Earlier this week, Samson Evans became the third scholarship running back in the last nine months to voluntarily leave the Iowa football program.

The decision, though, should be viewed as a sign of the top-end strength in Derrick Foster’s room — not any dysfunction within it.

While Foster correctly acknowledges the Hawkeyes’ run-game production fell short of internal expectations in 2019 (90th in FBS at 3.95 yards per carry), there’s no doubt the room is in its best shape in three seasons, buoyed by the emergence of Tyler Goodson.

And Hawkeye fans should be comforted to hear that during the COVID-19 pandemic, Goodson has been bulking up in suburban Atlanta while working out with a personal trainer and Mercer-bound younger brother Taylor.

Foster, in an interview with the Register for Wednesday’s Hawk Central radio show on KXnO in Des Moines, reported that Goodson’s body weight is in the “198 to 200 pounds” range on his 5-foot-10 frame. He was between 190 and 195 last season as a true freshman. It's an incremental gain designed to improve Goodson's durability.

Tyler Goodson busted this 55-yard touchdown run early against Nebraska, part of a season-ending stretch in which he collected 69 carries as Iowa went 4-0 with him as the featured back.

“We felt like he had that frame to be able to do that and not lose any step, any speed,” Foster said. “He’s still got great quickness and great feet.”

We may one day look back on Minnesota week 2019 as the time when the Goodson era officially began. It was then — after a maddening 24-22 loss at Wisconsin, in which the speedy Goodson had just six touches of the football — that Brian Ferentz and the offensive staff made a change in the backfield.

Goodson would become the featured back. Against Minnesota, which entered 9-0 and No. 7 in the country, Goodson would set the tone with first-quarter bursts of 26 and 21 yards, followed by a 10-yard touchdown run that demonstrated his quickness to the edge and power to carry a tackler into the end zone.

Two games later, Goodson’s 55-yard touchdown gallop at Nebraska pushed Iowa to an early 14-3 lead.

It was obviously the right decision. Iowa went 4-0 with Goodson as the starter. He scored a touchdown in each of those games, including the 49-24 rout of USC in the Holiday Bowl.

He got 65 carries in Iowa’s final four games, compared with 17 for Mekhi Sargent and 10 for Toren Young — who had been the team rushing leaders.

“At the end of the day, the conversation was more so, ‘Let’s do what’s best for us as a team,’” Foster said. “Not to discredit the other guys and (say) they’re not best for the team, but we definitely wanted to put the best product, the best 11 guys out there that we felt like can get us started early.

“And we felt Tyler could do that. And that’s where he came into play. Then Mekhi and Toren did a great job supporting that role for him moving forward.”

Young has since given up his fifth year of eligibility, leaving Goodson (the first true freshman in program history to lead Iowa in rushing), Sargent (1,308 rushing yards in two seasons) and Ivory Kelly-Martin (the Week 1 starter in 2018)  to lead Iowa’s running backs into 2020. Sargent is uniquely placed in his native Key West, Florida — quite the outpost amid the pandemic.

Backup will come from redshirt freshman Shadrick Byrd of Alabama, plus incoming freshmen Gavin Williams from Des Moines and LeShon Williams of suburban Chicago. (Six running backs, honestly, feel about right.) Gavin Williams enrolled in January at Iowa, in part to get a taste of spring practice — only to be sent back home in March to take online college classes.

It’s certainly been an interesting and unexpected time, including for Foster, 34, as he enters his third season with the Hawkeyes. While working from home more these days, he considers himself blessed to see his son (who turned 1 on Wednesday) take his first steps. Normally this time of year, he'd be out recruiting.

And he should feel good about his position group, too, as Henry Geil (transfer to Independence Community College, of "Last Chance U." fame), Young (pro aspirations) and now Evans (transfer portal) have said good-bye.

“To be honest, (Evans) was a surprise. But I totally respect and understand his wishes. He will do very well moving forward. He is a great kid and a great young man," Foster said. "You never want to see a guy leave.

"But with the backs we have we have in the room … I feel really comfortable and really confident about things moving forward."

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 25 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.