Iowa Football: AIRBHG No Laughing Matter to Hawkeyes
AIRBHG, otherwise known as the Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God, was a term that was first coined, to the best of my knowledge, by the good folks at Blackheartgoldpants.com.
It's difficult to say when they first came up with it, but the first time Iowa fans began to notice that something was amiss with Hawkeye running backs was 2004. During that season, the Hawks' first three backs went down with torn ACL's, while a fourth missed half the season with a high-ankle sprain.
The full history of AIRBHG's wrath is detailed, with a fair degree of accuracy, here.
As is evident via the information in the link, Iowa running backs were fairly "safe" between 2005-2007. In effect, I suspect that AIRBHG was first officially coined following the 2007 season.
At that time, the last two Hawkeye running backs that have left Iowa City with degrees in hand—Albert Young and Damien Sims—had graduated, and their heir apparent—soon-to-be-true sophomore Jevon Pugh—decided to transfer despite the distinct probability that he would be the starting tailback for a Big Ten university the following season.
It is here that we will start our story.
Since 2008, AIRBHG has become a running joke.
In 2008 spring camp, the Hawks were down to one scholarship running back. That back—JUCO-transfer Nate Guillory—opted to transfer out of Iowa City once it became it evident that despite the Hawks' depth problem, he wasn't going to get carries.
With or without Guillory, the 2008 team had a depth problem at running back, in that it only had two active scholarship running backs. However, one of those running backs was Shonn Greene, who stayed healthy all season and wound up having a pretty good year.
He opted to turn pro with one year of eligibility remaining, which brings us to 2009.
The specifics, in this case, aren't important. What is important is that since 2009, the Hawkeyes have played in three bowl games, and in each of the bowl games, the Hawks have started a freshman at tailback.
Put plainly, the starting tailback from the previous season has disappeared three years in a row.
It has been during the last three years that AIRBHG has gotten so ridiculous that it is funny.
Except, when one looks closely at what has gone on at tailback, it becomes palpable that if the Hawkeyes have suffered a more-than-average number of injuries at the tailback position (they have), it has not been an egregious amount of injuries a la 2004.
Rather, the attrition and issues Iowa has had at the one position group have been a matter of non-health-related issues, even though the casual fan is not entirely sure of the specifics of those issues.
In other words, the attrition the Hawkeyes have experienced at running back since 2008, in the words of fellow FC Stix Symmonds, "isn't a fluke."
Consider what has already been mentioned about Jevon Pugh. At the end of 2007, he was the lone returning scholarship running back. He had played as a true freshman and gained 40 yards on 17 carries with one touchdown. And this was before Shonn Greene had re-entered the picture, as Greene missed 2007 due to academics.
It would be an understatement to say Pugh had the inside track to being a featured back at a Big Ten school that was a run-first team. One would think that would be a dream situation for would-be running backs.
Yet, he cited "homesickness" and transferred.
Then consider the Iowa backfield's most recent defections—Marcus Coker and Mika'il McCall.
Firstly, it needs to be mentioned that we don't know the specifics of either of their stories and probably never will.
However, we do know that, per Iowa athletic director Gary Barta, the door was open for Coker to return following a one-game suspension. We also know that Coker was the starter in 2011 and would have likely been the starter in 2012.
That is two backs in five years that have walked away from probable starting positions at a Big Ten institution with a respectable football program.
And that doesn't take into account the plethora of other backs who have left during that time, many of who were getting considerable playing time, even if they weren't starting.
It is unfair to group all of these young men into one lump bunch and assume that there is one answer to this problem.
But it is fair to assume that there is a problem that needs to be addressed.
As absurd and amusing as AIRBHG is, players and teammates don't abandon ship with this degree of regularity unless there is something consistently giving them problems within the organization.
I have posted my (admittedly uninformed) opinion as to what that might be.
I may be wrong or I may be on to something, but the only thing more ridiculous than Iowa's dearth of experience at running back is, or would be, if Kirk Ferentz failed to address it as the tangible—and thus fixable—problem that it is.
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