Hawkeyes living right going into the finale

Healthy RBs, defense save the day of the lopsided turnover margin

Published: November 24 2013 | 4:45 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 12:00 am in
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IOWA CITY -- The Iowa running backs just aren't a "gimme" bunch. No matter who does what, they always say the right things, are humble and praise each other in the postgame.

The "Franken-back" of Mark Weisman, Damon Bullock and Jordan Canzeri is starting to come together nicely. It flexed its muscles, ran its outside zones and whirled its way to 150 yards on 33 carries in the Hawkeyes' 24-21 victory over Michigan last weekend.

Weisman scored on a 9-yard touchdown run to tie the game in the fourth quarter. Canzeri gave the offense a burst when it needed it. Bullock won't brag about his numbers, but he gained 8 yards on a third-and-9 that gave Iowa a chance to convert a fourth-and-1 (Weisman) and that eventually led to the game-tying TD (Weisman).

"It's good for us keeping everyone fresh," said Canzeri, who rushed 12 times for 50 yards. "It's a relaxing feeling and not stressful, because we know whoever's in there will get the job done."

Weisman shook off injuries to have his best game in five weeks. Against a Michigan defense that ranked No. 4 in the Big Ten in rush defense, the junior rushed 17 times for 88 yards. It was his best output since rushing for 147 yards Sept. 28 against Minnesota.

And for the first time since that game against Minnesota, the Hawkeyes were the stronger team in the fourth quarter, not only scoring the 10 points to win it but also owning time of possession, 9:55 to 5:05, rolling up seven first downs and rushing for 65 yards, including Weisman's 22-yarder that came off linebacker Anthony Hitchens' key strip and fumble of Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner.

That run put Iowa in position to run out the final 2:12 and take a knee against Michigan.

"Mark there at the end was running hard," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "He looked like Mark Weisman of old. That's a pleasing sight for a head coach on a sideline, I can tell you that."

The Hawkeyes' biggest muscle plays against the Wolverines came on the fourth-quarter TD drive that tied it. Iowa went for a fourth-and-1, after Bullock's 8-yard gain, at Michigan's 24. The play was an inside zone to Weisman that went for 4 yards. Next play was a screen pass to fullback Adam Cox for an 11-yard gain to UM's 9. The next play was the same as the fourth-and-1. Weisman finished the 9-yard TD with his legs firing like pistons.

"The offensive line, the tight ends and fullbacks are all playing great out there," Weisman said. "We just ran the same play a couple of times in a row. That's on them [the blockers]. Jordan played great out there. Damon played great out there. We got it going in the second half today and that was good to have."

Iowa running back will be as healthy as it's been this late in the season since 2011 when the Hawkeyes (7-4, 4-3 Big Ten) travel to Nebraska (8-3, 5-2) for their season finale Friday at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln (11 a.m. kickoff, ABC).

Other signs of good health:

-- Defensive coordinator Phil Parker called a masterful game against Michigan. Iowa measured its blitzes, got contributions from an array of players (seven substitutes rotated in) and held Michigan to 158 yards total offense. That's the second time in 11 meetings between Ferentz's Iowa teams and Michigan that the Hawkeyes held UM to less than 200 yards (171 in 2002).

"Hat's off to coach Parker, he coached a great game," said defensive tackle Carl Davis, who had 2.5 tackles for loss and a pass breakup. "That's his nature, he's a very aggressive person and he wants to get after people."

Parker is perhaps the perfect defensive coordinator to have against Michigan. He is in his second season as Iowa's defensive coordinator and his 15th at the UI overall. He also was an all-Big Ten safety at Michigan State.

"He's nutty anytime, that's coach Parker for you," said Davis, also a pretty good weapon to have against Michigan with the 6-5, 315-pounder being from Sterling Heights, Mich., a Detroit suburb. "He was a Michigan State and I know that natural rivalry. That's building up the natural hatred for them."

-- If this were Major League Baseball, quarterback Jake Rudock might've been looking at being relieved after a rough first couple of innings. Two of his three interceptions came in the first half and set up two Michigan TDs, including defensive end Brennan Beyer's 7-yard pick 6.

This isn't baseball and Rudock kept it together. His first half pass efficiency was a dismal 84.3 (9 of 18 for 92 yards, a TD and two picks), but his second half was nearly perfect, completing 10 of 12 for 147 yards, a TD and an interception. That's a pass efficiency of 197.1.

The defense and Rudock's turnaround helped the Hawkeyes survive a 4-to-1 imbalance in turnovers.

"The defense kept us alive," Ferentz said. "It's just not a good formula. I don't want to try that again, because we probably dodged a bullet on that one. Typically, you're not going to win when you lose that lopsidedly in the turnover battle."

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