Charboneau: Deep Iowa is still on a roll
Around these parts, we've heard plenty about Michigan State's battles with injuries and turning to the "next man up" approach.
The Spartans have managed to get by and sit at 7-0 overall and 3-0 in the Big Ten, deadlocked with Ohio State atop the East Division.
But the team leading the West is practicing that approach pretty well, itself.
Iowa, a team not many picked to contend, is also perfect for the season, and Saturday's 40-10 blowout over fast-fading Northwestern was the latest example of the Hawkeyes using the entire depth chart.
Leading rusher Jordan Canzeri went out early in the game with an injury. No matter. In stepped sophomore Akrum Wadley, who entered the game having carried the ball only eight times all season.
He responded by carrying the ball 26 times for 204 yards and four touchdowns, tying the Iowa record for most touchdowns in a single game.
"Next man in," Wadley said. "We've got four great backs (and) it's just big plays waiting to happen. Any one of us is capable of making big runs and I just stepped up to the plate."
Wadley had touchdown runs of 35, 4, 2 and 4 yards. His performance, behind an offensive line that has had its share of injuries, isn't surprising anymore for this Hawkeyes team.
"Needless to say, this is a really resilient bunch of guys we are coaching right now," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "It seems like whatever we throw at them or whatever comes their way — good, bad or indifferent — they seem to respond in a really positive way.
"How good we are, I have no idea right now, but I do know this, this team plays extremely hard and it has a lot of guts."
Good enough might the best answer for Ferentz. Iowa is off to its best start since its 2009 Orange Bowl season and doesn't play a ranked opponent the rest of the year, avoiding crossover games with the likes of Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan.
Against long odds, with players going in and out, the Hawkeyes are on the path to winning the West and reaching the Big Ten title game.
"The toughness and the fight this team has — you can expect that any week," quarterback C.J. Beathard said. "The way this team fights, I felt like we would come out on top."
That will likely be the case over the final five weeks.
Gotta hand it to Rutgers. A week after nearly pulling the upset over Michigan State, the Scarlet Knights were allowing points to Indiana at an alarming rate and appeared ready for the knockout when they trailed 52-27 in the third quarter.
Fortunately for coach Kyle Flood, in his first game back after serving a three-game suspension, the Scarlet Knights had some offensive firepower of their own.
Rutgers scored 28 unanswered to pull off the 55-52 victory when Kyle Federico kicked a 26-yard field goal as time expired.
"We're relentless, we'll never give up and we have a lot of fight in this team," quarterback Chris Laviano said.
The comeback matched a 41-38 victory over Maryland last season when Rutgers erased a 25-point deficit.
In this one, Indiana and Rutgers combined for 1,223 yards of offense, 15 touchdowns and 43 plays of 10 or more yards. The 107 combined points were No. 2 all-time at Memorial Stadium. Laviano was 28-for-42 passing for a career-high 386 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Leonte Carroo caught seven passes for a career-high 157 yards and three touchdowns before leaving in the second half with an injured right foot or leg.
"I think it's just a matter of continuing to compete and it's not easy to do," Flood said. "It takes tough-minded people, and I think we have that."
They'll need to be tough-minded over the next few weeks of a brutal schedule, including next week against Ohio State. But even with all their off-field issues, the Scarlet Knights showed they aren't closing up shop on their season.
Hawkeyes in crisis
The flipside of Iowa's victory was the spiral Northwestern appears to be heading down.
The Wildcats have now lost two straight by a total score of 78-10 after getting wiped out at Michigan the previous week, 38-0.
Their defense entered the Michigan game having given up only seven points a game, the best in the nation. But the Wildcats struggled again, allowing 492 total yards to the Hawkeyes.
The key for Northwestern will be to avoid the collapse it had in 2013 when it won its first four games and ascended to No. 16 in the country before losing seven straight and failing to even make a bowl game.
"We'll get right back to work," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "The team has to make a decision. (Are we) the team that won five games and made plays and we're making plays all over the place? Or (are we) a team the last two weeks quite frankly that is void of making plays?"