Toren Young's big day punctuates buy-in among Iowa's running back committee

Dargan Southard
Hawk Central
Iowa's Toren Young pushes away Northern Illinois' Mykelti Williams as he runs down field during their game at Kinnick Stadium on Satuday, Sept. 1, 2018.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — The committee approach is only fully functioning if everyone is on the same page. For Iowa’s running back unit — a young three-deep group oozing with potential — that understanding boils down to something simple.

“Knowing your role, accepting your role and supporting each other,” redshirt sophomore Toren Young said. “That’s what we talk about in our room.”

Saturday was an early snapshot of how this trio can operate. Perhaps the workload and explosive plays shift among the three weapons week to week, but the Hawkeyes’ 33-7 win over Northern Illinois showed what can happen when the buy-in is there.

With the passing game still waking up, it was Iowa’s rushing attack that put the Huskies to bed in the second half. The ground group of Ivory Kelly-Martin, Mekhi Sargent and Young combined for 186 yards on 36 carries. At some point Saturday, all three got extended looks.

Young’s day stands as the obvious headliner — his third-quarter scampers of 40 and 24 rejuvenating a stadium that had been mostly subdued after Iowa sputtered to a 3-0 halftime lead.

He finished with a team-high 84 yards and a touchdown on eight touches, but Young’s performance carried more weight than just a timely injection. It depicted the value in trusting the committee’s core belief.

Consider this: Young garnered much of the preseason chatter and was seemingly the lead dog to replace the heralded Akrum Wadley. Until, a shift, when offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz said on Aug. 21 that Kelly-Martin had, in fact, surged ahead of the other two. That was reflected in last week’s build-up and early on gameday. Kelly-Martin was hounded by reporters Tuesday and had nine first-half carries Saturday.

    Young didn’t take have a touch until he darted left, plowed through Northern Illinois linebacker Kyle Pugh and surged down the left sideline for Iowa’s longest play of the day. An emphatic yell and first-down signal suggested Young had been hunting for that breakthrough.

    With a distracted mindset, maybe it doesn’t arrive.

    “I’m not talking on his behalf, but I think Toren was a little bit disappointed in how he performed during camp,” veteran tackle Levi Paulsen said. “But that just goes to show we have a break-the-rock mentality.

      "You’re going to chip away at that rock, not knowing when it’s going to break. And I think that’s the mindset of a lot of our guys — we’re going to just keep hammering, keep hammering and, eventually, the opponent is going to break.”

      Northern Illinois essentially did in the third.

      The 40-yard burst set up a short touchdown pass to Noah Fant. On the ensuing drive, Young’s second long run gave Iowa first-and-goal. Kelly-Martin then put the Huskies in a 17-0 hole with a two-yard plunge.

      Young eventually got his too, cementing the blowout win with a 6-yard TD run early in the fourth. Suddenly, the Hawkeyes suddenly had 21 points in nine minutes.


      “I think it just goes to show that you never know when you’re going to be able to get your opportunity,” quarterback Nate Stanley said. “All three of them made the most of it. They all three ran extremely hard when they had the opportunities.

      “They knew that, 'Maybe I’m not going to be in for four plays in a row, so why not go as hard as I can this play?' And that’s exactly what they did.”


      Ask any running back at any level and you’d be hard-pressed to find one who didn’t believe he could shoulder a heftier workload. Confidence spews from the position. One must be to handle that amount of bruising punishment.

      The reality, especially in college football, is those 25-carry-a-game guys aren’t all that common. Numerous teams roll with some kind of committee approach. Running back shelf-lives are short and sweet. The more, the better.

      Next week versus Iowa State could reveal something totally different. "Situational" was a repeated postgame buzzword Saturday, and Iowa’s backfield picture will likely remain fluid moving forward.

      But if Saturday revealed anything, it’s that the committee buy-in is there. The concern then lessens, no matter who ends up taking charge week-to-week.

      "We’ve got unselfish guys, and I think they understand we're going to do the best thing for the team," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "That's our jobs, as coaches. I think it's kind of what I see with these three guys.

      "They're all really, really good guys and I'm thrilled they're on our team."

      Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.