IOWA CITY – Five weeks ago, Hawkeye football fans never heard of him. Today, they can’t get enough of him.
The Mark Weisman story added a couple more chapters Saturday at sun-splashed Kinnick Stadium during Iowa’s 31-13 mauling of Minnesota.
The walk-on (soon to get a scholarship) fullback (soon to be listed only as a running back) passed the century mark on the ground for the third straight game – on his ninth carry of the first quarter. Weisman finished with 177 yards on 21 carries and one touchdown. He would have cracked the 200-yard mark if not for a holding penalty that wiped out a 30-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
The sophomore back now has 519 yards rushing on 74 carries and 7 TDs on the season. The 519 are the most by an Iowa player in the first five games of the season since Shonn Greene had 665 yards in 2008. Of course, Weisman had only two carries until Week 3 when running backs Damon Bullock and Greg Garmon went down with injuries against Northern Iowa and he exploded onto the scene.
“It’s been a little surreal,” Weisman said. “The support is cool by everybody. The fans are great here.”
The modest Weisman continually credited the offensive line and fullback Brad Rogers for his success against Minnesota. “They’re the ones blocking out there. They’re making it easy on me,” he said.
Asked about Weisman after the game, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said what a lot of fans probably are already thinking in light of the recent woes at the RB position.
“After one game, you’re kind of like, hmmm, hope I’m seeing it right,” said Ferentz, who has said Weisman will get a scholarship in January. “Then, after two (games), you start thinking this guy might not be bad. After three games, I think a lot of us are starting to think maybe this guy is a running back. His fullback days may be numbered.”
Minnesota usually had seven or eight defenders in the box to stop Weisman. That strategy backfired when Weisman took a second-quarter handoff from James Vandenberg, made a couple of steps and then pitched the ball back to his quarterback who tossed a 47-yard TD pass to a wide-open Jordan Cotton, putting Iowa up 17-0.
“They fell for the play-action, which is good, and I got it back to (Vandenberg) and he made a great pass. It just energized the team, energized the stadium,” Weisman said. “We’ve had some trouble with it (in practice). I want to try to get him the laces. Sometimes at practice I didn’t and sometimes I did. Today, I got it back to him quick.”
Minnesota coach Jerry Kill missed the flea-flicker trick play as he was talking to his offense on the sideline at the time, but it was hard not to miss Weisman running through his defense.
“They ran the ball well,” Kill said.
Gophers middle linebacker Mike Rallis tipped his helmet to Weisman.
“He’s a physical player. Arm tackling is not going to do it,” Rallis said.
Which brings us to the player Weisman idolized as a youngster growing up in Buffalo Grove, Ill.
“Walter Payton. I watched him growing up and heard the legends and the stories,” Weisman said. “He was unbelievable, fighting for every yard he could get. If you fight like that on every play, you’re going to get a lot of yards.”
Hmmm, sounds like a certain fullback-turned-running back for Iowa.