Iowa RB Akrum Wadley ready for a New Jersey homecoming against Rutgers
IOWA CITY, Ia. – The question didn’t even need to be completed.
Akrum Wadley knew right where it was heading Tuesday, shortly after the Iowa running back revealed that his hometown university, Rutgers, never offered him a scholarship.
“Yeah, that, yeah, yeah. It’s going down,” Wadley interrupted with a laugh when a reporter started to ask how that made him feel.
The No. 25 Hawkeyes (2-1) are taking Wadley on a homecoming Saturday, when they face the Scarlet Knights (2-1) for the first time ever at 11 a.m. (ESPN2).
Wadley grew up in Newark, N.J., a 15-minute drive from the Rutgers campus in Piscataway. He attended basketball games there but never football. Even after scoring 25 touchdowns as a senior tailback at Weequahic High School, the only slight interest shown by Rutgers, Wadley said, was as a special teams player.
That was when Kyle Flood was coach; Ottumwa native Chris Ash is in his first season in that capacity now.
Still, Wadley hasn’t forgotten. He’ll have “a long list” of friends and family in the stands at High Point Solutions Stadium to help him remember. Wadley, a junior, said he wrangled a few extra tickets from teammates this week, and it didn’t even cost him much in the way of bargaining chips.
“It’s all love on this team,” Wadley said, flashing a smile that always seems to be ready to surface. “They don’t have any family in Jersey, so why not?”
The only other New Jersey native on Iowa’s roster is freshman defensive end Brandon Simon, who is redshirting this season and won’t make the trip.
For Wadley, the Big Ten Conference opener carries extra incentive beyond a chance to put on a show for the folks back home. He is coming off his most abbreviated outing of the season, getting a mere five touches for 27 yards in a 23-21 loss against North Dakota State. He accumulated 217 yards and four touchdowns in the Hawkeyes’ two season-opening wins.
Wadley has been slowed by a bruised knee the past two games, an injury that still is requiring ice treatment, he said. He gave mixed signals about how much that hampered him Tuesday, first saying he was fine and could have played more last Saturday, then explaining: “LeShun (Daniels Jr.), he was much healthier than me and I think the coaches didn’t want to risk it.”
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz also said that Wadley’s knee injury wasn’t limiting his use. Ferentz pointed to the Hawkeyes’ 49 offensive plays as one factor. It didn’t help that Wadley dropped an easy pass late in the first half.
Ferentz said third-string tailback Derrick Mitchell Jr. was expected to miss another game with an injury, depriving the Hawkeyes of their best third-down option. It will be Daniels and Wadley splitting duties again, Ferentz said.
“In a perfect world, we're going to be moving the ball a little bit better and sustaining some drives. Third down, certainly we've got to do a better job there,” he said.
Daniels and Wadley will be facing a Rutgers defense that is allowing 178 yards per game on the ground, ranking 13th of the 14 Big Ten teams in the nonconference schedule. That would seem to be something Iowa can exploit, a chance to prove that last week’s 34-yard rushing effort against the Bison was an anomaly.
However, the Scarlet Knights’ defensive strength is its front four, which consists of three fifth-year seniors and a junior. Ash credited that unit with helping turn the tide in Saturday’s 37-28 victory over New Mexico.
The Lobos, running a triple option, piled up 293 yards on the ground but were kept in check after building a 21-0 first-quarter lead. Their final 11 possessions included seven punts, two turnovers, a missed field goal and one touchdown.
“The D-line is the reason that we were able to end up defending that option fairly well in the last three quarters of the game because of the way they played. The option responsibilities and the pressure they were able to put on the quarterback,” Ash told reporters in New Jersey on Monday. “We're not where we want to be yet, but I like the progress that I'm seeing, the work ethic, the chemistry of that group. Their performance continues to me to get better every Saturday.”
Iowa is hopeful that it will get starting offensive linemen James Daniels and Sean Welsh back from injury. That would help the rushing game. So would Wadley at 100 percent health. The 5-foot-11, 191-pounder is the Hawkeyes’ most explosive playmaker.
“It was hard looking at that game knowing certain plays you messed up and wanting some plays back, but you’ve just go to move on. … Just a lot of sloppy, sloppy football on our part and we just need to correct it,” Wadley said of Iowa’s first loss.
“I just want to do good (in returning to New Jersey). Definitely want a team win, but definitely excited.”