Despite crowded backfield, true freshman Tyler Goodson is just too talented not to play

Tyler Goodson fights for yards against Middle Tennessee State. Photo by Jasmine Vong

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa - There is a lot to like about Tyler Goodson’s performance so far as an Iowa running back, but not just from a statistical standpoint.

His statistics, which include a 5.9 yards-per-carry average and 202 rushing yards in four games, are certainly impressive and cause for optimism heading into Saturday's game at Michigan.

But even more impressive is how much Goodson has played for an undefeated Iowa team (4-0) that is loaded at his position, and the amount of trust he has earned in a short period of time.

Goodson is part of a rotation at running back that didn’t really need another part with three established juniors already in the mix and competing for playing time when he joined the team.

It was easy to assume, barring injuries, that Goodson would appear in just four games this season in order to maintain his freshman eligibility status.

But the Suwanee, Ga., native quickly put that plan to rest by showing in preseason practice that he was capable of making an immediate impact. 

Goodson has since delivered in games, too, and is among three Iowa running backs who have rushed for at least 200 yards in the first four games, along with juniors Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young.

Goodson has left several defenders grabbing for air with an elusive running style that earned him the nickname the “human joystick” from teammate Brandon Smith.

Goodson also has made a strong impression on the head Hawk.

“We thought he was a good prospect coming out of high school,” said Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. “But everything he’s done here he just seems unfazed by it. He just acts like he belongs."

Ferentz prohibits his true freshmen from speaking to the media, so he spoke on Goodson's behalf after this past Saturday's 48-3 victory over Middle Tennessee State and gave a glowing report. 

Ferentz paid the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Goodson a huge compliment by comparing him to former Iowa tight end Tony Moeaki, who also acted like he belonged, and played like it, as a true freshman in 2005.

“The thing about Tony Moeaki, he was the same way,” Ferentz said. “He walked on campus and if he was in with a bunch of young guys, he looked like a young guy. If you put him with the seniors, he played like a senior.

“So that’s a rare ability for a kid, and Tyler’s done a good job so far.”

It took somebody with rare ability to turn a three-player rotation into a four-player rotation.

Juniors Mekhi Sargent and Toren Young are listed first and second on the depth chart, but Goodson’s 34 rushing attempts are second on the team behind Sargent’s 54 carries.

Young has carried 33 times for 251 yards, with more than half of his yards coming in the victory over Middle Tennessee State as rushed he rushed for a career-high 131 yards.

Junior Ivory Kelly-Martin, who started six games last season, including the season opener, has sort of been the odd man out this season with only six rushing attempts in four games.

But Kelly-Martin was in the on first series against Iowa State, showing that the coaches trust him, too.

“It’s unusual. I don’t know if we’ve ever been in that situation,” Ferentz said of having four reliable running backs. “But we have confidence in all four of the backs. The older three guys we know very well, so we came into the August part of practice really feeling good about those players, kind of like the receiver group.

“And now Tyler is an addition to it.”

Coaches often say that a team can never have enough running backs due to the physical pounding that the position takes, so to have Goodson now in the mix helps in that regard.

“We have a special group of backs,” Sargent said. “We have conference games coming up. The sky’s the limit.”

Sargent is arguably the most versatile of the four running backs, while the 5-11, 223-pound Young is the most powerful.

Goodson and Kelly-Martin rely more on making defenders miss in space, so each of the four running backs has a style that distinguishes him from the others.

Goodson is one of two true freshmen running backs on the team, with the other being Alabama native Shadrick Byrd.

Kirk Ferentz also has spoken highly of Byrd, who enrolled early at Iowa and then participated in spring practice.

Byrd has yet to appear in a game this season, so it appears that he will be redshirted as a true freshman.

Goodson’s chance of being redshirted will end on Saturday, assuming he plays against Michigan, which would be his fifth game.

But there is no drama in this case because Goodson has shown that he belongs.  

He figures prominently in Iowa’s game plan each week because he is too talented to leave on the bench despite the depth at his position.

Goodson came to Iowa with enormous hype as the 2018 Player of the Year in talent-rich Georgia and has actually lived up to the hype so far. He has made room for himself in a backfield where there was very little room available.

Goodson is also doing things as a true freshman that separate him from many of Iowa’s top running backs.

Sedrick Shaw and Ladell Betts are ranked first and second, respectively, on Iowa’s career rushing list and were both redshirted as true freshmen. Tavian Banks was also redshirted in 1993 as a true freshman and currently ranks fourth on Iowa’s all-time rushing list.

All three of them needed time to adjust to big-time college football, whereas Goodson hit the ground running, and has just kept running at a level that demanded that he play immediately.