IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Longtime Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz has been more open to giving freshmen a shot at playing time in recent years.
The shift might have saved the Hawkeyes’ offense this fall.
Redshirt freshman receiver Tyrone Tracy and true freshman running back Tyler Goodson, both third options entering the season, have become invaluable. Tracy had six catches for 77 yards in last week’s 23-19 win over then-unbeaten Minnesota, and Goodson had a season-high 94 yards on 13 carries in his first career start.
The 19th-ranked Hawkeyes (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) host Illinois (6-4, 4-3) on Saturday in their home finale.
“They’ve got a lot of ability, which gives them a great start,” quarterback Nate Stanley said “But their work ethic puts that over the top for them. Every single day in the offseason and during camp and in practice...they’ve both done a great job of paying attention to detail, being focused on the fundamentals.”
The 5-foot-11 Tracy was overlooked in recruiting despite putting up spectacular stats at Decatur Central High in Indianapolis. Tracy, playing running back, receiver and defensive back, rushed for 1,412 yards and 13 touchdowns and caught 54 passes for 1,132 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2017.
Iowa used the new four-game rule on redshirts to get a look at Tracy last season. Tracy came into this year as a backup option behind Brandon Smith and Ihmir Smith-Marsette, who said Tracy has a knack for “turning little plays into big ones.”
With Smith hobbled by a sprained ankle, Tracy has had his best games with Iowa over the past two weeks.
He had 130 yards receiving against Wisconsin, including a late 75-yard score off a short pass that pulled Iowa within 24-22, which ended up the final score.
Tracy is averaging a team-high 18.3 yards per catch.
“He’s a very explosive player. He’s hard to bring down (as a) short, stubby person. It’s hard to bring him to the ground. He’s already low,” Smith-Marsette said. “He’s been doing a great job of catching the ball and making something out of it.”
Goodson, a Georgia native and the rare recruit that the Hawkeyes pulled out of SEC country, committed to Iowa even though he had the likes of veterans Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young ahead of him.
Goodson showed promise as a third-stringer and Iowa used in its passing game earlier this season, too; he has 20 catches for 143 yards.
But after losing three of five and facing the Golden Gophers, the coaching staff turned to Goodson as a starter.
Goodson responded with 7.2 yards per carry and a 10-yard TD to give the Hawkeyes a 13-0 lead. He is Iowa’s leading back in Big Ten games at 4.9 yards per carry.
“It just felt like, last week, it was time to give Tyler a chance to start. And he responded really well,” Ferentz said. “Everything he’s done so far, he’s responded really positively.”
Tracy was unavailable to reporters Tuesday because of an academic conflict, and Iowa doesn’t make true freshmen like Goodson available to the media.
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