Brown: Canzeri's desire rings true in historic effort

Rick Brown

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Jordan Canzeri had a date late Saturday afternoon. With an ice bath.

"That will be needed," Canzeri said, a you-know-why smile breaking out on his face. "Sunday, too."

This, after the senior carried the ball a school-record 43 times for 256 yards in No. 22 Iowa's 29-20 Big Ten victory over Illinois at Kinnick Stadium.

"One of the greatest performances from a running back in this stadium," said Iowa radio analyst and former star Ed Podolak.

Only two Iowa running backs have gained more yards than Canzeri did Saturday. Tavian Banks went for 314 yards against Tulsa in 1997. And Podolak needed just 17 carries to gain 286 yards against Northwestern in 1968.

"I would certainly like to see him get some kind of outstanding award for what he did (Saturday)," Podolak said.

Canzeri's feel-good story Saturday goes deeper than 43 carries. He has shown resilience and dedication in the face of injuries that have essentially made a wash of most of his career. Canzeri's strong faith helped him stay positive, helped him stick around for a Saturday he'll never forget.

"It's really good to see him shoulder the load, and he stepped up big," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "I had no idea he had 43 carries. But he never even looked at the bench. It was just one of those shots where he was going to keep going."

Canzeri, whose previous career high for carries was 26 at Wisconsin last week, started the season as the No. 2 running back. But when LeShun Daniels, who was injured in Week 2 against Iowa State, didn't even dress Saturday, Canzeri had to be the rock by his lonesome. He spent a good portion of Saturday running downhill.

"You never know what you're capable of until you push through the barriers that you previously had for yourself," Canzeri said. "I never had that opportunity. I never had the chance. When asked to, I was willing to put everything on the line."

There are three moments that highlight Canzeri's career day.

The first came on his 17-yard touchdown catch on a screen play in the second quarter. Canzeri caught the ball in the left flat, slowed down as he waited for his blocking to develop and then burst upfield and into the end zone.

"He just has that great combination of quickness and vision," Podolak said.

The second came on his career-long 75-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. A different play was originally called, but quarterback CJ. Beathard knew it was destined to fail because of the defense Illinois was in.

"I checked into a different play," Beathard said. "It ended up being a big play."

It was a power play that was well-blocked, and noteworthy because Iowa's offensive line had its share of injuries. Left tackle Boone Myers missed his second straight game. Right guard Jordan Walsh missed much of the first half when his shoulder got dinged. Right tackle Ike Boettger injured an ankle in the third quarter and never returned. All told, Canzeri's accomplishments become even more impressive.

"It was a crazy-good performance," senior center Austin Blythe said.

And that takes us to moment No. 3. An Illinois touchdown had cut Iowa's lead to 23-20 with 10:13 to play. And then it was Canzeri Time.

"That time when I think like I ran the ball like seven times in a row, yeah, I was tired," Canzeri said.

Actually, I told Canzeri, it was 11 straight carries.

"Ooh," Canzeri said.

You read that right. Eleven straight carries moved the ball from the Iowa 25 to the Illinois 16, eating up nearly 7 minutes. Facing a third-and-5, Iowa called timeout. And Canzeri had enough energy to try and pump up the crowd, waving his right arm.

An incompletion later, Marshall Koehn kicked the first of two late field goals to put the game away. And Canzeri celebrated like any guy would do after 43 carries in a Big Ten game. With an ice bath.

Hawkeye columnist Rick Brown is a 10-time Iowa Sportswriter of the Year. Follow him on Twitter: @ByRickBrown