IOWA CITY — For a grand total of two quarters, Iowa lived the dream of having two healthy running backs. They even provided counterweights to each other’s skills.
Mark Weisman was the burly, inside-yardage guy at 6-0, 235 pounds. Damon Bullock provided quick feet, strong burst and elusiveness. They were on the field and in the lineup — together — for the first half of last week’s loss at Northwestern.
Iowa lived the dream of a steady group of healthy running backs. For two quarters, Iowa had it all . . . or at least had two healthy running backs, which is Power Ball-worthy dreams for the Hawkeyes (4-4, 2-2 Big Ten).
“Damon is a very versatile guy,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday. “Mark is versatile in that he can play running back, fullback. Damon can play receiver, running back, . . .
“There are some options, but the first trick is to get them both on the field healthy together. We’ll look forward to that day, and we’ll think about it then.”
Ah, tis but a distant dream at the moment.
The Hawkeyes will try to fight off their first dip below .500 since 2007 this weekend at Indiana (3-5, 1-3), a team that’s enjoying a bit of a rush after snapping an 11-game Big Ten losing streak last weekend at Illinois. In fact, the Hoosiers, who started as three-point home underdogs to the Hawkeyes, are now favored for the first time in Big Ten play since Northwestern 2007.
Iowa goes into this without its leading rusher in Weisman (661 yards, eight TDs), who hasn’t been the same since suffering a sprained ankle on the game-tying TD Oct. 13 at Michigan State. Since then, Weisman has rushed just 14 times for 30 yards. Ferentz didn’t offer specifics on last week’s injury.
“He’s stretching it, so he’ll get treatment,” Ferentz said. “He’ll try to regroup this week, and we’ll see where we’re at next Tuesday. I think there’s a chance we’ll probably know more here in the next 48 hours, where he’s going to be long term, but I think there’s a fair chance we’ll get him back next week [Purdue at Kinnick Stadium].”
Enter Bullock, who exited Sept. 15 after slamming his head onto a UNI safety’s knee and missing 4 1/2 games with a concussion. He also suffered another concussion in practice before Michigan State.
He showed last week that he’s fine, rushing 22 times for 107 yards and catching five passes for 41, tying a career-high in receptions. The most important stat in his mind was taking that first jolt. It happened in the third quarter. Bullock had tacklers at his feet and on his back when a Northwestern linebacker swooped in head on.
“I was just waiting for the big hit the whole time,” said Bullock, who’s averaged 4.86 yards a carry this season. “I didn’t really take a good hit in practice the whole week, so I was anxious to get a hit and see how I would react to it. I got that that hit, I was like, ‘All right, this is it.’ I closed my eyes and I was able to get back up.”
Bullock, who’s now wearing a different helmet, said part of his recovery included avoiding computers and TV, which, for a 19-year-old might as well be a cave in Antarctica.
“I knew I’d get back eventually,” said Bullock, who’s averaged 21.75 carries in the four games he’s played. “The doctors told me to stay off the computer and stay away from the TV. It’s kind of hard to do, but once I figured out it wasn’t working for me to keep watching TV and playing video games, I slowed it down and got better.”
Sophomore Jordan Canzeri (seven months from a torn ACL) and true freshman Michael Malloy remain in redshirt limbo. The later it gets in the season, the higher the probability they keep a season of eligibility. Scratch fullback Brad Rogers off the list, who’ll miss a second week with an unspecified injury.
Another element of Iowa’s offense that had a chance to settle last week was the sort-of rebuilt offensive line. The Hawkeyes lost left tackle Brandon Scherff (broken leg, dislocated ankle) and guard Andrew Donnal (torn ACL) for the season against Penn State. Senior Matt Tobin moved from left guard to tackle. Junior Nolan MacMillan and freshman Jordan Walsh switched at left guard. Freshman Austin Blythe returned to his spot at right guard after missing two weeks with a foot/ankle injury.
The run blocking was there, but since the injuries, the Hawkeyes’ O-line has had a hand in allowing seven sacks the last two weeks. This isn’t a good stat match with the Hoosiers, who lead the Big Ten with 60 tackles for loss (tied for 16th nationally) and are fifth with 19 sacks.
“Hopefully, with all three guys who are playing guard right now, I think we’ll see them play a little faster this week just because of the experience factor,” Ferentz said.