Akrum Wadley


Even if Akrum Wadley didn’t have such an interesting name, the running back still would be a person of interest to Ohio State on Saturday against Iowa. Establishing the run between the tackles is a major component of the Hawkeyes’ huddle-up, methodical approach.

“It’s an NFL offense,” Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano said.

Play-action fakes by quarterback Nate Stanley would mean little, however, if the Hawkeyes haven’t shown the 5-foot-11, 195-pound senior to be a running threat. Wadley leads Iowa with 643 yards rushing.

“Elite change of direction — elite,” Schiano said of Wadley. In the Hawkeyes’ zone-scheme running game, “he’s hunting and pecking for daylight, and when he sees it, he sticks a foot in the ground (and cuts), and it’s very hard to react as fast as he can react.”

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When he slips out of the backfield on a passing route, he also can be dangerous. His 46-yard catch for a tying touchdown late in regulatoon at Iowa State was a great example.

Given opportunities and a little daylight, he has proved he can make something happen.

“We were part of his coming-out party a couple of years ago, and he wasn’t expected to start, and then he went off for just a career day,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said of Wadley’s 204-yard, four-touchdown performance against the Wildcats in 2015. “He has explosiveness, great vision, great top-end speed, can catch the ball, too, out of the backfield.”

Last week, Ohio State took on arguably the top dual-threat running back in the country in Penn State’s Saquon Barkley. He returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, and he had a 36-yard touchdown run. But otherwise he was limited to eight yards on his other 20 carries and caught four passes for 23 yards.

“Our kids are attacking the line of scrimmage and they are playing with discipline in their gaps,” Schiano said. “And that’s really what run defense is. … We are a single-gap control defense, and if you can control your gap and swarm through it, you’ve got a chance to play good run defense.

“That was a big challenge last week, and now we’ve got another big challenge this week.”