IOWA CITY, Iowa – Let Jordan Canzeri’s record-breaking performance on Saturday be a lesson to those who might feel slighted or under-appreciated.
Canzeri could’ve complained, pouted or made excuses after seeing his name listed behind LeShun Daniels at running back for the Iowa football team.
But that would’ve gone against Canzeri’s humble nature. It would’ve been selfish and immature. It also probably would’ve caused a controversy, or at least a distraction, for a team that could afford neither.
“I could see it being hard to other people and it is,” Canzeri said of being passed on the depth chart. “But when you choose to have the positive focus and the positive mentality rather than the negative one, all it does is do great things for you.
“If I was mad or took it out on other people like that, I wouldn’t be in this position. You always just want to have a positive outlook on everything, even when the tough times come. If you keep a positive focus nothing but good things can come your way.”
Canzeri sold himself short by only saying good things because what he accomplished on Saturday against Illinois was more than good. It was spectacular, the kind of individual performance that leaves you almost in awe.
And his timing couldn’t have been better because Iowa needed all of Canzeri’s 256 rushing yards on a school record 43 carries to escape from Kinnick Stadium with a 29-20 victory.
With Daniels still hobbled by an injury, Canzeri was basically a solo act on Saturday, all 192 pounds of him on a 5-foot-9 frame.
Take away quarterback C.J. Beathard’s five rushing attempts and it was all Canzeri on the ground for Iowa. Sophomore Derrick Mitchell gained four yards on a shovel pass and sophomore Akrum Wadley played briefly, but had no rushing attempts.
Canzeri’s ironman performance was sort of ironic because his durability has been questioned perhaps more than anything else as a Hawkeye. Part of the concern comes from Canzeri’s lack of size, but he also missed the entire 2012 season because of a knee injury and was hobbled last season by injuries.
“That actually motivates me when people don’t think I can do something,” Canzeri said. “You have to have that positive outlook and that positive attitude.”
With Saturday’s victory, Iowa improved to 6-0 for just the second time in 17 seasons under head coach Kirk Ferentz and to 2-0 in the Big Ten. Iowa also became bowl eligible for the 14th time under Ferentz.
There was a disturbing side to Saturday’s victory, though, as injuries continue to plague the Hawkeyes. All-Big Ten defensive end Drew Ott was helped off the field in the second half after suffering an apparent knee injury. Ott was on crutches after the game.
Sophomore offensive tackle Ike Boettger also left the game with an injury and was replaced by true freshman James Daniels, who is the younger brother of LeShun Daniels.
Iowa already was without senior receiver Tevaun Smith, sophomore left tackle Boone Myers, senior tight end Jake Duzey and LeShun Daniels for Saturday’s game because of injuries.
So it was important for somebody to seize the moment.
We probably shouldn’t be surprised that it was a senior that rose to the occasion. Canzeri and his senior cohorts have been saying and doing all the right things this season, with Iowa’s record proof of that.
“It’s really good to see him shoulder the load today, and he stepped up big,” Ferentz said of Canzeri, who has rushed for 697 yards in six games this season. “He wanted to. There’s no question about that. We were all worried about him getting fatigued. I had no idea he had 43 carries. But he never even looked at the bench.
“It was just one of those shots where he was going to keep it going. That’s reflective of the attitude of the football team, especially our seniors, and Jordan represents those guys really well.”
Youth also was served on Saturday as true freshman receiver Jerminic Smith complemented Canzeri with 118 receiving on just four catches. Smith, a native of Garland, Tex, was able to get separation throughout Saturday’s game, which is an encouraging sign. He did drop a potential touchdown pass in the end zone in the fourth quarter. But in fairness, the ball was thrown behind him.
It felt as if Iowa was on the verge of seizing the momentum on several occasions during Saturday’s game, but the Fighting Illini didn’t unravel, thanks largely to Wes Lunt’s 317 passing yards.
Illinois made a field goal to cut the lead to 16-13 with 2 minutes, 56 seconds left in the third quarter. So with injuries mounting and the lead shrinking, Iowa was desperate for somebody to step up down the stretch.
It took Canzeri 11 seconds to step up with plenty of assistance from his injury-riddled offensive line. On the first play from scrimmage, Canzeri scooted through a huge hole and then outraced several Illinois defenders for a 75-yard touchdown run with 2:45 left in the third quarter.
“I was ready to do what was needed of me, and I knew we needed a score,” Canzeri said.
Illinois answered with a 53-yard touchdown pass from Lunt to Geronimo Allison with 10:13 left in the fourth quarter, slicing the lead to 23-20 with the point-after kick.
Marshall Koehn then iced the game by making two field goals in the fourth quarter from 34 and 40 yards. His 34-yard field goal, which expanded Iowa’s lead to 26-20, came with 3:20 left to play and on a drive in which Canzeri had 11 consecutive rushing attempts, all of which gained positive yards.
“I was tired, but I just had that adrenaline going,” Canzeri said. “I could hear the crowd. They were getting everyone going. And I saw the sideline, they were all amped up. And then everyone in the huddle, they were all just so positive and knew we could the job done. And I was just so ready to do whatever my team needed me to do. And I was just willing to put it all on the line.”
Canzeri would be the first to say that he can’t carry the rushing load by himself. He did it for a day, but somebody else will have to provide assistance at some point. Iowa’s next game is Saturday at Northwestern.
LeShun Daniels, who is a junior, was good enough to move ahead Canzeri on the depth chart in spring practice, but he just can’t stay healthy. Daniels also missed five games last season because of an injury. The fact that Daniels had played sparingly before this this season is why some were surprised that he was listed ahead of Canzeri on the depth chart.
This isn’t how Canzeri wanted to become the starter, but the Troy, N.Y., native is being rewarded for his patience, persistence and his trust in the Iowa coaches.
And now, he’s rewarding his team in a big way.