IOWA CITY — They had a plan and they executed it to perfection.
There was the game and all that. The Hawkeyes rode running back Mark Weisman and a huge first half Saturday to a 31-13 victory over Minnesota before 70,585 at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) get a reset with an off week before traveling to Michigan State on Oct. 13.
Weisman rushed for 177 yards and a TD. Iowa pulled off a flea flicker to perfection, 47 yards from James Vandenberg to Jordan Cotton for a TD. The offense went to sleep in the second half and the defense bucked the trend of slow starts and more than held serve.
Let’s get to the Pig.
Iowa had the ball and the game was over. The last snap came with 38 seconds left. The key here is Minnesota (4-1, 0-1) still had a timeout, so run for the Floyd of Rosedale or wait for the clock to go quadruple zero.
There was a plan. The man with the plan was senior center James Ferentz.
“I go, ‘What if they call the timeout?’” senior guard Matt Tobin said, “and he goes, ‘[Bleep] it.’ ”
Only Tobin didn’t say bleep. Hey, it’s football, it’s the Pig and it’s a giant 98-pound bronze porcine statue off this team’s collective chest.
Last week, the maroon-and-white team won at Kinnick, and, yes, that’s Central Michigan. This week, the Hawkeyes closed, with linebacker Christian Kirksey’s 68-yard interception return for a TD with 5:15 left in the fourth quarter being the first hand on the Floyd.
It’s at least one trophy case that the Hawkeyes won’t be tripping over for the next calendar year.
The ESPN2 TV crew that handled Saturday’s telecast got into town Friday and started tweeting photos of the empty trophy case that first started showing up in the Hawkeyes’ lockerroom this summer. It didn’t just sit in the lockerroom. It was strategically placed in several high-traffic spots during the week by strength coach Chris Doyle and his staff.
This week, the Floyd case was plopped on the steps leading into Kinnick, where players enter for practice. It also was in the weight room, the equipment room and the locker room.
The message sunk in.
“The guys were ready to take a sledgehammer to that thing,” linebacker James Morris said. “I’m glad it’s full now.”
After a two-year stay in Minneapolis, Floyd, who was actually interviewed by an ESPN2 sideline reporter, knew he wasn’t leaving Iowa City after the Hawkeyes’ first-half blitz.
Iowa stalled on its first drive, but Mike Meyer drilled a 44-yard field goal. The Iowa defense had allowed scores on the opponent’s opening drives in three of its first four games this season, but free safety Tanner Miller snared a Max Shortell pass and sat inbounds for an interception on Minnesota’s first drive.
Then Iowa just started landing body blows. The left side of the offensive line, Tobin and tackle Brandon Scherff with Ferentz joining in, trampled Minnesota’s hyped D-line. Weisman had 103 yards in the first quarter. He added 52 more and an 8-yard TD in the second.
Can the left side of Iowa’s O-line earn Big Ten player of the week? When it was time to take off for the trophy, Weisman, a sophomore, held back and watched the offensive line, as it had all day, lead the way.
“That’s all the O-line, they deserved it,” said Weisman, who in three weeks as Iowa’s primary back has 447 yards and seven TDs, best since Tavian Banks in 1997. “They [the O-line] were running like 4.2 40s out there. They were running faster than I was.”
With Minnesota loaded up to stop Weisman, offensive coordinator Greg Davis pulled the rug out from under the Gophers with the flea flicker. Handoff to Weisman for what looked like another inside zone, toss back to Vandenberg and there was Cotton, who didn’t have a UM defender within cell-phone reception.
That was the boost. That made it 17-0 with 13:03 left before halftime. Coach Kirk Ferentz had to run through the memory banks to think of the last flea flicker Iowa ran. He came up with one to former Iowa all-American Dallas Clark in ’01.
“Just part of the offensive package that Greg’s installed,” Ferentz said. “It’s all about timing. Like every play, it’s all about execution. It was a good deal.”
The Hawkeyes’ offense will have two weeks to chew on that second half, when they gained just 46 yards on 18 plays and left the door open for Minnesota, which couldn’t take advantage with Shortell showing why MarQueis Gray is the starter. “They were doing things that we’ve never seen before,” said Vandenberg, who completed 18 of 31 for 192 yards with no interceptions.
Iowa didn’t allow any sacks for the fourth straight game and didn’t turn over the ball. Minnesota had four turnovers, including Kirksey’s deal-sealer.
No one seemed to care about the numbers at the end. James Ferentz sprinted for the Pig even though Minnesota still had a timeout.
Ferentz didn’t let go of it until he was halfway up the tunnel.
“James Ferentz finally said, ‘Oh my gosh, this thing is heavy, someone help me out,’ ” Morris said. “And it is heavy. I think I only carried about a fifth of it and it was heavy.”