IOWA CITY — You know Mark Weisman suffered the foot injury against Michigan State. You can see he has a bruise the size of cantaloupe on his right bicep.
Yet, the 6-0, 236-pound running back still is churning for the Hawkeyes. He said he’s healthy and all systems go after he had just three carries in the second half of the Hawkeyes’ 17-10 overtime victory over Northwestern last weekend at Kinnick Stadium.
Weisman was off to a Weisman type of day with 45 yards on eight carries in the first half. Then, in the second, the junior carried three times for 5 yards and had one reception for 11. The Hawkeyes (5-3, 2-2 Big Ten) faced three short third-down conversion attempts in the second half and went with junior Damon Bullock and two pass plays.
“In the first half, we did pretty well with the running game, but we didn’t sustain it in the second half,” said Weisman, who, after back-to-back 30-plus carry games in the first month of the season, has gone seven, 10 and 13 carries. “You have to credit the other team. They’re making adjustments out there and filling harder. You have to give them some credit.”
In the second half against the Wildcats (4-4, 0-4), Iowa was held to 28 rushing yards on 15 carries, including two Weisman rushes for 8 yards in the overtime. Iowa has faced Michigan State, Ohio State and Northwestern in the last three games. MSU and OSU are the Big Ten’s elite defenses. Northwestern is eight in the the conference in rush defense, allowing 165.2 yards a game.
In their last three games, the Hawkeyes have rushed 25 times for 57 yards in the second half. That’s taken them out of their comfort zone and has caused a second-half malaise where Iowa has been outscored 53-10.
“I don’t know if there’s frustration,” Weisman said. “You’ve got to just keep pushing through and that’s what we’re doing out there. We’re pushing through it and we’re going to keep going until it stops us and then we’re going to try to keep going.”
Weisman kicked off the game for the Hawkeyes. He caught a check-down pass and gained 9 yards on the game’s first play. He followed that with an 11-yard rush into the short side of the field, following tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz and left tackle Brandon Scherff. Later in the drive, Weisman had back-to-back 9-yard carries. Bullock finished it with a 3-yard TD run. Iowa rushed 12 times for 65 yards on the first drive, a 14-play beauty for a 7-0 lead.
Northwestern didn’t do anything drastically to adjust. The Wildcats kept a steady stream of seven and eight defenders near the line of scrimmage. The linebackers leaned into run a little more in the second half, but that was it.
Weisman finished with 58 yards on 13 carries and two receptions for 20 yards. It was his most productive game since running for 147 yards at Minnesota on Sept. 28. He’s not stressing on this, by the way.
“We’re always confident out there,” Weisman said. “Whenever we go out on the field, we’re confident.”
Weisman carried on Iowa’s first play of the third quarter and then the second play of Iowa’s next drive, following an NU touchdown that pulled the Cats within 10-7 with 4:39 left in the third.
This is where Northwestern kind of went Ohio State on the Hawkeyes. In Iowa’s 34-24 loss at Columbus two weeks ago, the Hawkeyes held the ball just 6:55 in the second half. Northwestern tied the game 10-10 on Jeff Budzien’s 29-yard field goal with 9:09 left in the game.
“It comes down to how you finish games, something we hadn’t done the last two times out [MSU, OSU],” coach Kirk Ferentz said. “We weren’t able to get it done in the second half. Hopefully, this is a learning experience for us. That’s something we’ve emphasized.”
Iowa was less dynamic on offense after quarterback Jake Rudock was shaken up late in the second quarter. He tried to slide after a scramble, took a side to the side of the head and had his right knee bent awkwardly. He had the knee examined on the sideline.
“That’s football,” said Rudock, discussing the blow to the head. “You’re going to get hit. That’s why we put air in the helmets.”
After the combo of NU’s defense and offense nullified Iowa’s running game in the second half, there it was again in OT. And so how huge was Rudock’s first-down completion to wide receiver Tevaun Smith on Iowa’s first play of OT?
Out of the shotgun, Rudock faked a zone-read handoff to Weisman. Smith caught a quick stop route and turned up field for a 14-yard gain to NU’s 11. From there, with two tight ends and a fullback, Weisman gained 2 yards and 6 yards. Iowa eventually scored on Rudock’s 8-yard TD pass to Fiedorowicz.
The first-down completion to Smith opened the two runs that gave Iowa a workable third down. That’s how they want/need it to work. You could argue that play brought Weisman back into the playcalling.
“It gets the drive going and you’re ahead of the chains and first down,” Rudock said. “That’s what you’re looking for.”