IOWA CITY, Ia. — Toren Young’s lips curled upward as reporters swarmed, his white teeth gleaming once the questions rolled in. It had been a bit since the Hawkeyes’ bruising back was atop the rushing mantle.
This potent ground-game committee works both ways. Each member is liable to hop to the front on any given Saturday, depending on how the action flows. But just as quickly can someone slip into the shadows for weeks at a time.
That’s where Young sat two Saturdays ago at Iowa State, nearly out-touched by Iowa’s three other running backs. A month in and Young still hadn’t broken free. That can weigh on any player fighting among a crowd.
He unloaded Saturday with authority.
Buoyed by a 52-yard scamper early in the third, Young ripped off his first triple-digit rushing performance as part of No. 14 Iowa’s 48-3 demolition over Middle Tennessee State. On a day where the Hawkeyes (4-0) chewed up turf and spit out Blue Raider defenders, Young paced Iowa’s ground attack with 131 yards on just 11 carries.
It’s the first time in 12 games Young has been the Hawkeyes’ leading rusher while running for at least 50 yards. That was certainly something to grin about.
“When you have games like this, it’s just a confidence booster,” Young said. “It helps you realize just what you can do.”
It wasn’t that Young had vanished completely — his veteran reliability and pounding ability will always play in Iowa’s program. But with Mekhi Sargent usually getting the first cracks and Tyler Goodson’s freshman promise tantalizing in garbage time, Young has been left to make do with what he’s gotten.
That hasn’t always created many moments to shine. After scoring late to cement Iowa’s season-opening win over Miami (Ohio), Young entered Saturday with only 13 carries over his previous eight quarters. As Cy-Hawk tightened up in the second half, Young didn’t touch the ball in crunch time.
Iowa’s running backs know the drill by now — but leave a guy idle for too long and he’s bound to sputter when it’s time for an important crank. That’s why Kirk Ferentz was happy to see Young re-gain his footing.
“He has a great attitude and adds a lot to our football team and makes us a tougher team," the Iowa coach said postgame. “Good to see him get on track. The bottom line is (Toren’s) improved so much during his career here and it's a credit to (him) because he works hard. When you see that improvement, that's great.
“There's no master plan or design (with the running back rotation). We kind of have a plan but you never know how it's going to shake out. So all of those guys really have done a good job of being ready when they are called upon.”
It looked to be a modest output until Young sprung free for Iowa’s longest scamper since the 2017 regular-season finale at Nebraska. Everything meshed together with perfection.
The handoff came with Young slightly moving to the left, which drew in all three Blue Raider linebackers along with a creeping-in defensive back. A small right cutback revealed a gaping lane, as long as fullback Brady Ross handled the blitzing corner and right guard Levi Paulsen swung back to get a piece of Khalil Brooks. The MTSU linebacker tried to adjust in time to avoid an over-pursuit.
Too late. Ross and Paulsen did their jobs. Young was ready to do his.
Wheels were turning, arms were pumping once he reached the second level. Another crucial block from Ihmir Smith-Marsette transformed a nice play into a massive one. Young chugged hard from the Iowa 25 to the MTSU 40 before realizing it was time to improvise.
MTSU safety Jovante Moffatt caught a mean stiff-arm and went for another 15-yard ride before reinforcements finally arrived. Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill looked around in disgust as a long day got longer.
“I was ecstatic,” Sargent said with a grin as wide as Young’s. “We feed off of that. I’m on the sidelines jumping up and down, cheering him on.
“He broke some tackles, but personally, there were some more tackles he could’ve stepped out of. That’s some stuff I criticize him on. But it’s good criticism.”
Young’s rebuttal to the playful jab?
“Definitely should’ve,” he said, laughing. “Got to pick them knees up.”
What Young did pick up was another notch of reassurance as Iowa readies for the schedule’s treacherous stretch. The Hawkeyes will need all their horses humming if they’re to survive the Big Ten landmines ahead.
Igniting Young, even in a blowout, will prove vital in the weeks to come.
Dargan Southard covers Iowa and UNI athletics, recruiting and preps for the Des Moines Register, HawkCentral.com and the Iowa City Press-Citizen. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @Dargan_Southard.