TAMPA, Fla. — Mark Weisman has talked it over with his buddies on defense. He understands the concept of half-speed in practice. He knows all about the “thud” part of a drill and, no, running backs haven’t been tackled in practice since the early 2000s.
(Not really kidding on that last part. You know all about the Iowa running back vortex — with 10 running backs leaving the program since 2008.)
The bottom line with Weisman is he thinks “half-speed” is Latin for . . . He doesn’t know Latin, so he doesn’t have “half-speed” in his vocabulary.
“It’s hard to do that stuff,” Weisman said. “I feel like any competitor wants to be going full-go at all times. It’s hard to get that half-speed stuff down. To be successful and to be able to recover, you have to try.”
And, yes, Weisman has actually talked to his defensive mates about the whole “half-speed” concept.
“If we’re in pads, it’s full speed until contact and then it’s thud,” Weisman said with a laugh. “You go by the rules. You don’t want to be hurting guys on defense. They don’t want to be hurting you. Everyone knows the tempo by now.”
When the Hawkeyes are back to full speed against the LSU Tigers in the Outback Bowl on Wednesday (noon kickoff, ESPN), Weisman needs 63 yards to become the sixth 1,000-yard rusher in Kirk Ferentz’s 15 seasons as Iowa’s head coach. Since Shonn Greene capped off a record-breaking season in 2008 (1,850 yards, 20 TDs) against South Carolina in the Outback Bowl, Iowa has had just one 1,000-yard rusher (Marcus Coker 1,384 in 2011).
Of course, Weisman’s response to this fact is what you’d think a former walk-on who transferred from the Air Force Academy because he didn’t like the regimented life and eventually found himself as Iowa’s No. 1 running back really by accident week 3 of the 2012 season would be.
“If it helps the team,” Weisman said. “That’s really what matters. If I were to get that, it’s all the offensive line. You don’t think about that. I feel like guys on this team don’t really care about stats. All we care about is working hard and trying to get wins.”
The 2013 season has been somewhat of a tale of two seasons for Weisman. The 6-0, 236-pounder doesn’t dance for his yards and that took a toll. During Iowa’s second bye week Nov. 16, Weisman was reduced to the tour de sideline stationary bicycle.
“”That guy worked so hard,” Ferentz said. “He can’t go half speed. I’m not saying he’s [former Iowa safety] Bob Sanders [renowned for his inability to process "half-speed"], but there’s a little bit of that, too. We put him over in the bullpen for a while.”
During the first third of the season, the cumulative effect was Weisman’s calling card. He was stronger in the fourth than the first. In August/September, Weisman averaged nearly 24 carries and 123.0 yards a game. The Buffalo Grove, Ill., native rushed helped Iowa drain the clock in a 27-21 victory at Iowa State, rushing 35 times for 145 yards. Against Minnesota, he fueled Iowa’s 23-7 win with 147 yards on 24 carries.
“Mark Weisman is a big physical back, a great back who can do a lot of things,” LSU coach Jerry Miles said Friday in Tampa, Fla.
At this point, Weisman was chapters, not pages, in opponents’ scouting reports on Iowa.
“I think that’s what Coach Ferentz and the program has been about,” Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Everett Withers. “It has been about toughness, the run game and toughness. Coach Ferentz is an old offensive line coach. … (Weisman) is a tough kid and a tough runner.”
Then, Iowa and Weisman met Michigan State, which turned out to be one of the best defenses in the country. Weisman didn’t make it through the first quarter without significant “dings.” He suffered a sprained foot and strained a pectoral muscle in the first half and didn’t return.
The pec thing left a gruesome bruise that ran down his shoulder and into his right biceps.
“That was just some torn fibers in the pec,” said Weisman, who’s fought through the foot and pectoral problem along with elbow and knee injuries. “It didn’t really affect me. It didn’t hurt very bad. I’m sure it looked awful. I didn’t really notice it. I think it was after the Minnesota game. Sometimes, you don’t even notice the bruises.
“Apparently, I bruise pretty easily.”
Weisman’s workload shrunk. In October, he averaged 10 carries a game; 14.75 in November. He hasn’t had a 100-yard game since Sept. 28 at Minnesota, but it started to come back to him after the bye. Against Michigan, Weisman had 88 yards on 17 carries. Weisman had his most memorable run of the season, bouncing through four tacklers, for an 11-yard gain that set up a TD run against Nebraska.
Weisman finished the game with 72 yards on 24 carries. If your Iowa perception is big backs running behind an efficient, bruising line, the Nebraska game was the most “Iowa” Iowa looked since September.
“A lot of guys fight through injuries,” Weisman said. “If you’re not hurting, something is probably wrong with you. You’re probably not playing. Everyone has stuff to fight through. You’ve got to fight through it.”
Iowa 1,000-yard running backs under Kirk Ferentz
2000 — Ladell Betts 1,090
2001 — Ladell Betts 1,060
2002 — Fred Russell 1,264
2003 — Fred Russell 1,355
2005 — Albert Young 1,334
2008 — Shonn Greene 1,850*
2011 — Marcus Coker 1,384
* — Iowa season record