Loss of Hampton a tough break for Iowa

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

We should know better than to doubt Iowa's run game. Just last year, the Hawkeyes entered preseason camp without a definitive starter, and some numbskull ranked the team's running backs last in the Big Ten.

What happened? Shonn Greene happened. Came out of nowhere to eclipse 100 rushing yards in all 13 games and win the Doak Walker Award.

Iowa fans can take solace in this historical tidbit as they cope with the season-ending loss of Jewel Hampton, who has been ruled out for 2009 because of a right knee injury. Hampton reinjured the knee about a week into preseason camp after sustaining the original injury during voluntary workouts in July.

He'll undergo surgery, redshirt the season and have three years of eligibility left.

"We obviously thought he had a chance to make it back," Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He has practiced. I mentioned that in camp right before the open scrimmage is when he got hurt, so he was doing things that were heavy-duty football things, and unfortunately the episode that tipped him over the balance was hardly of that category. He's been in a lot more strenuous exerting positions. It's just one of those things and it can happen to anybody. But certainly it's just unfortunate."

This is a major loss for Iowa since Hampton had proven himself on the field last fall with 463 rush yards and seven touchdowns (an Iowa freshman record). It's rare when you can lose a national award winner like Greene and still feel really good about his backup.

With both Greene and Hampton off the field, Iowa will lose 94.2 percent of its rushing production from 2008.

Former walk-on Paki O'Meara will start Saturday against Northern Iowa, and redshirt freshman Adam Robinson will serve as the backup. O'Meara had 21 carries for 62 yards and two touchdowns last fall, while Robinson will be making his first appearance in a college game.

Redshirt freshman Jeff Brinson and true freshman Brandon Wegher also are in the mix, though both battled injuries earlier in camp. Ferentz said Brinson, who had an ankle injury, remains "way behind" in his preparation for the season, while Wegher has been practicing for a while.

"We'll just keep an open mind on this whole thing right now and my guess is probably by the end of the season we'll see all four of those guys being involved if they can stay healthy and pick up what's going on," Ferentz said.

I'd bet Brinson emerges as Iowa's starter at some point, and the Hawkeyes' offensive line looks strong enough to create gaps for just about anyone. But it's clear that Hawkeyes need quarterback Ricky Stanzi and the passing attack to step up and become a bigger focal point in the offense.

As Ferentz often says, the margin for error at Iowa isn't large, especially this season, when the schedule is so brutal. The Hawkeyes can rely on a solid defense and an emerging quarterback, but they certainly would have been better off with Hampton carrying the ball.