Bullock rushes to forefront in Iowa win

CHICAGO -- Iowa sophomore running back Damon Bullock was shocked when it was his number called with the game on the line on Saturday.

The Hawkeyes trailed Northern Illinois by five and were facing a third-and-9 from the Huskies’ 23-yard line with less than three minutes remaining. Bullock assumed he would be pass blocking on whatever play was to be signaled in from the sideline.

He was wrong. It was for him.

Moments later, Bullock took the handoff from quarterback James Vandenberg, darted diagonally to his left, found a hole, cut up the sideline, kept on sprinting and just beat Northern Illinois safety Dechane Durante to the end zone’s left corner for the score. Iowa went ahead 18-17 with 2:15 left, and that was how the game would end before a predominantly-Iowa paid crowd of 52,117 at Soldier Field.

Bullock finished with a game-high 150 yards and scored Iowa’s lone touchdown in his first career start. He also caught three passes for 26 yards.

From Iowa barely surviving Northern Illinois to the late play-calling for Bullock to him even being the go-to back on Saturday, it was an afternoon full of surprises for the Hawkeyes.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz entered Saturday not sure what he would get from his running game. He planned to utilize Bullock, freshman Greg Garmon and freshman Michael Malloy.

Ferentz never imagined Bullock would rush 30 times on Saturday. It just sort of happened.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Ferentz said. “(Bullock’s) a very young guy, second year on campus. He didn’t have many yards last season, period. First of all, (I was impressed) for him to play the entire game, for him carrying the load out there. It was muggy.

“I though he made some real tough runs and did some good things. I’m certainly pleased with this being a first step for him.”

A season ago, Bullock impressed Ferentz enough to play as a true freshman, but his opportunities were still limited. He rushed for 20 yards on 10 carries in six games.

Iowa senior wide receiver Keenan Davis thought Bullock was not only inexperienced last season, but also a bit immature. On Saturday, Davis witnessed a more grown-up Bullock go about his business.

“I could tell Damon was ready before we even started,” Davis said. “He was focused. You could see a big difference in him from last year. Last year, (he was) kind of messing around. But this year, he’s focused and ready, and I could tell he was ready before the game. He came out and did what he was supposed to do.”

Bullock was modest about his performance afterward. When asked if he felt he had proved himself, he said, “I guess you could say that.” When asked if he felt Iowa had found its starting running back, he said, “Ask coach.”

One of the questions Bullock did expand on was whether he believed he was capable of such a game.

“I know what I can do,” said Bullock said. “My family knows it. My teammates know it. My coaches know it.”

And for anyone who didn’t know about Bullock prior to Saturday, they do now.