Big picture for Hawkeyes at running back: Whatever works

Perhaps the lead here is Iowa has three able backs this late in the season

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March 28, 2014 | 11:44 pm

IOWA CITY -- Iowa's running back plan remains fluid. It's "all hands on deck," the "hot hand" and/or "freshest and healthiest back available" mode.

Health cancels out the fact that the Hawkeyes (6-4, 3-3 Big Ten) go into week 11 with questions about who'll be the main running back in this weekend's game against Michigan (7-3, 3-3). Coach Kirk Ferentz said Tuesday that junior Mark Weisman was "a little beat up" during the Hawkeyes' 38-14 victory at Purdue on Nov. 11.

That opened the door for sophomore Jordan Canzeri, who broke out with a career-high 165 yards and a TD on 20 carries. The Hawkeyes broke loose for 313 yards. This was Iowa’s best day running the ball since going for 365 yards in a 45-21 win over Minnesota on Nov. 16, 2002.

So, where does it stand coming off last weekend's bye?

Canzeri fits the "hot hand" and "freshest/healthiest" back categories.

"Well, he's certainly in the rotation now a lot more prominently than a month ago," Ferentz said. "And then the other good news is with the bye week, I think our backs will be fresher.

"I won't say they're worn down, but like our whole team, I think everybody gets a little bit tired as the year goes on. It's a long season. Last week gave our guys a chance maybe to get their legs back. Hopefully, that's the case. I think we definitely saw it with Jordan in the two games he appeared in before the break."

After not seeing a carry in the three previous games, Canzeri has led the Hawkeyes in rushing the last two games, carrying five times for 58 yards (including a 43-yard run, Iowa's longest of the season) and then going off last week.

At the very least, he's earned a spot in the rotation, which also includes Weisman and junior Damon Bullock.

"If I'm going to be put in more, I'm more than happy to take that opportunity, but the rotation that we have has been great," said Canzeri, who has 49 carries for 338 yards this season. "Putting guys in at certain times and in certain situations has been working out."

Ferentz didn't want to say Iowa's backs are worn down, but Weisman is a dollar that's been through the washing machine a few times. He is on track to be Iowa's leading rusher for the second consecutive season (777 yards this season), but 71 percent of his 167 carries (still sixth in the Big Ten) came during the first five weeks of the season.

Against Michigan State, the 6-0, 235-pounder suffered a foot injury and a nasty bruise on his right biceps. Against Wisconsin, it was a sprained elbow.

"I think he's feeling a lot better now, so we'll try to use everybody we can, like every position," Ferentz said, "but one is a little bit more prominent so everybody can see what's going on there.Yes, if he's fresh and ready to go, we'll utilize everybody for sure."

Saturday could shape up to be a Weisman kind of grind. Michigan's rush defense is among the conference's best, ranking fourth in the Big Ten (one spot ahead of the Hawkeyes) and allowing just 111.2 yards. No, Michigan has yet to face Ohio State and doesn't play Wisconsin this season, but it's Michigan and Iowa. It shapes up to be a grinder and that could mean more Weisman.

(Or maybe true freshman LeShun Daniels, who's 6-0, 225. He's seen a handful of carries the last four games and has 39 for 142 yards this season. He doesn't seem to be in the immediate plans, but he is a big body.)

Let’s refresh on Weisman's workload at Purdue: He carried nine times for 30 yards against Purdue and seemed to find some rhythm in short-yardage situations. Six of his nine carries came on downs where Iowa needed 5 or fewer yards for a first down or touchdown. He converted first downs on four of those carries.

"We have a ton of good backs on this team and everyone can get it done," Weisman said. "It's good to keep people fresh. Jordan and Damon have been great. I was so proud of Jordan, he had a great game out there. Whenever your name is called, you've got to go out and do the job."

Lost in the Canzeri numbers against Purdue, Bullock did have his best day since rushing for 107 yards against Northwestern last season, a span of 13 games. He went for 85 yards on 10 carries. This season, Bullock has 455 yards on 108 carries (4.21 yards a carry).

Canzeri and Bullock combined for eight rushes of 12-plus yards against Purdue.

"Jordan had a lot of great moves and made a lot of great plays," Bullock said after the game. "Mark, he had his touchdown and short yardage. Whenever we needed a first down, he got it. I just tried to pitch in where I could."

This might be how it should work.

DateOpponentSurfaceResultAttYardsAvg.TD
08/31/1320 Northern Ill.TurfL 27-30201005.000
09/07/13Southwest Mo. St.TurfW 28-14301806.002
09/14/13Iowa St.GrassW 27-21351454.140
09/21/13Western Mich.TurfW 59-310434.301
09/28/13MinnesotaTurfW 23-7241476.130
10/05/1313 Michigan St.TurfL 14-26791.290
10/19/13@ 4 Ohio St.TurfL 24-3410525.200
10/26/13NorthwesternTurfW 17-1013564.310
11/02/1316 WisconsinTurfL 9-289151.670
11/09/13PurdueGrassW 38-149303.331
Totals1677774.654

DateOpponentSurfaceResultAttYardsAvg.TD
08/31/1320 Northern Ill.TurfL 27-3017764.470
09/07/13Southwest Mo. St.TurfW 28-1410404.000
09/14/13Iowa St.GrassW 27-2113503.850
09/21/13Western Mich.TurfW 59-310373.700
09/28/13MinnesotaTurfW 23-711474.270
10/05/1313 Michigan St.TurfL 14-26461.500
10/19/13@ 4 Ohio St.TurfL 24-3410565.600
10/26/13NorthwesternTurfW 17-1017523.061
11/02/1316 WisconsinTurfL 9-28661.000
11/09/13PurdueGrassW 38-1410858.500
Totals1084554.211

DateOpponentSurfaceResultAttYardsAvg.TD
08/31/1320 Northern Ill.TurfL 27-30263.000
09/07/13Southwest Mo. St.TurfW 28-143134.330
09/14/13Iowa St.GrassW 27-213103.330
09/21/13Western Mich.TurfW 59-313735.621
09/28/13MinnesotaTurfW 23-73134.330
10/05/1313 Michigan St.TurfL 14-26Did not play
10/19/13@ 4 Ohio St.TurfL 24-34Did not play
10/26/13NorthwesternTurfW 17-1000-0
11/02/1316 WisconsinTurfL 9-2855811.600
11/09/13PurdueGrassW 38-14201658.251
Totals493386.902

DateOpponentSurfaceResultAttYardsAvg.TD
08/31/1320 Northern Ill.TurfL 27-30Did not play
09/07/13Southwest Mo. St.TurfW 28-146305.000
09/14/13Iowa St.GrassW 27-21Did not play
09/21/13Western Mich.TurfW 59-313544.150
09/28/13MinnesotaTurfW 23-7Did not play
10/05/1313 Michigan St.TurfL 14-26Did not play
10/19/13@ 4 Ohio St.TurfL 24-344143.500
10/26/13NorthwesternTurfW 17-10382.670
11/02/1316 WisconsinTurfL 9-284143.500
11/09/13PurdueGrassW 38-145224.400
Totals351424.060

-- Stat charts from http://www.cfbstats.com/.

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