TAMPA, Fla. – LeShun Daniels wants to script a history-making conclusion to his college football career today.
In today’s noon match-up against 20th-ranked Florida in the Outback Bowl, the senior workhorse in 21st-rated Iowa’s backfield has a few things he’d like to see.
His list starts with a win, something the Hawkeyes have not accomplished in a bowl game since 2010.
It includes watching teammate Akrum Wadley join him in passing the 1,000-yard rushing barrier for the season. The junior is 34 yards shy of giving Iowa two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season for the first time in the program’s history.
And of a more personal nature, Daniels wants to carry the ball across the finish line of his college career in good health.
“I’ve finally had the kind of season that I knew I was capable of and that feels good,’’ Daniels said. “It’s been a long time coming.’’
Getting to the point where he could carry 198 times for 1,013 yards has been a journey for the Ohio native who packs more than power in his 6-foot, 225-pound frame.
Daniels’ health this season has allowed him to shed his image as a power back.
Fittingly, he has split Iowa’s four longest rushes of the season with Wadley, breaking free for a 67-yard gain at Purdue and a 56-yard run in his final home game against Nebraska.
“I feel like I can do whatever I’m asked to do and Akrum is the same way. I’m not just an insider and he’s not just an outside guy,’’ Daniels said. “The coaches have given us a chance to show that this year.’’
The results helped lead the Hawkeyes to late-season success and a spot in today’s match-up against a Gators team which features a defense which ranks in the top 10 nationally in five statistical categories.
“We know we will have to bring our best, bring a lot of energy and play the game we know that we can play,’’ Daniels said. “This is something we’ve worked toward for a long time.’’
That’s particularly true for Daniels.
He saw limited action as a true freshman in 2013, but has dealt with injuries that impacted his productivity the past two seasons.
Daniels missed five weeks of his sophomore season because of a broken ankle that limited him to 15 carries for the year.
Last season, he rushed for 126 yards in the season-opening win over Illinois State and had gained 56 yards before suffering a high-ankle sprain in the third quarter of a game at Iowa State.
He returned to rush for 195 yards against Minnesota, but re-tweaked the ankle the following week and saw only limited action the rest of the season.
“A lot of guys, that would have eaten them up and there were tough times, but my teammates and my family they were there to support me,’’ Daniels said. “I have always kept pushing forward, knowing that the breakthrough year was going to happen. That it would all fit together. This is that year. Finally.’’
The fit came this season as coaches essentially split the workload between Daniels and Wadley, utilizing the skills of both.
Daniels appreciates what Wadley brings to the table, saying he has a bright future, and coach Kirk Ferentz said both backs have contributed to an effective rushing attack.
“They’ve both given us good efforts and it’s a rotation that has worked for us,’’ Ferentz said. “They’ve become a big part of what we do.’’
With inexperience and injuries at the receiver and tight end positions, Iowa had little choice other than to ride the strength of its running backs.
Florida coach Jim McElwain said last Tuesday that attempting to stop that running game will be the Gators’ first defensive priority.
“You’ve got to at least force them to use both the run and pass,’’ he said, ‘’but, no secret, it’s about stopping the run first.’’