Iowa's running game needs to pass this test
Weisman's healthy, but Iowa's running game has proving to do
IOWA CITY -- Mark Weisman's foot is fine. He pointed out that it was a foot and not an ankle injury that sidelined him two weeks ago against Michigan State.
"That's way better than an ankle," the Iowa running back said Tuesday. "Ankles nag on; feet go away."
Weisman will give Iowa (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten) one healthy foot as it steps to No. 3 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) on Saturday at Ohio Stadium. Weisman was one of seven starters who missed time because of injury in Iowa's 26-14 loss to the Spartans on Oct. 5. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said that if the Hawkeyes had a game last weekend, they might've been in trouble injury-wise.
"Based on what we saw over the weekend, it looks like everybody's ready to go," Ferentz said. "We’ve just got to get through the week now."
"Everybody" includes offensive tackle Brandon Scherff (foot), wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley (leg), defensive end Dominic Alvis (back/leg), linebackers James Morris (undisclosed) and Christian Kirksey (ankle) and defensive tackle Carl Davis (leg). Weisman was the only one available Tuesday for interviews.
Weisman's health seems fine. Iowa's running game might need a walking immobilizer boot after the Spartans bagged it like groceries, holding the Hawkeyes to 23 yards on 16 carries. Yes, the Spartans lead the nation and the Big Ten in rush defense. Ohio State is No. 6 in the nation and right behind MSU in the Big Ten, allowing just 32 rushing yards a game.
Weisman disappeared and so did Iowa's running game and, eventually early in the fourth quarter, Iowa's chances vanished against MSU.
Does Saturday's game simply come down to whether or not Iowa can run the ball?
"There are some teams that are going to make it very difficult for you to run the football, so you better find some other ways," Ferentz said. "When you get in games like that, it's not a lot of fun. It's more fun if you can be balanced, certainly."
Ohio State replaced six starters in its front seven this season. It's been business as usual with players like true freshman defensive end Joey Bosa, who won Big Ten freshman of the week honors two weeks after OSU's win over Northwestern (the Buckeyes, like Iowa, were idle last week).
Michigan State stopped Iowa's running game cold. Ohio State's numbers are right their with the Spartans. Weisman was asked if he was worried about younger players going into Ohio Stadium -- capacity 102,329 -- and being intimidated.
"We don't like using that word," said Weisman, who leads Iowa and is third in the Big Ten with 104.0 yards a game. "You can't be beat before you start playing, and I think everyone on this team knows that."
Does this come down to Iowa being able to run the ball? If you look at Michigan State, definitely yes.
"I don't think it comes down to one thing," offensive tackle Brett Van Sloten said. "Both sides of the ball and special teams need to focus on their jobs and let the chips fall where they may."
Van Sloten knows it's not that easy. He also knows there's evidence, recent evidence from two weeks ago against Michigan State, that says if Iowa doesn't have success on the ground, it's in trouble.
"Unfortunately, we couldn't do anything," he said. "We've kind of boxed that one up and put it away for now. We're looking forward to getting back after it."
Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock knows the heavy relevance the "Iowa being able to run the ball" question carries. Iowa's passing game caught fire in the second quarter, when Rudock completed 11 in a row to push Iowa to a 14-10 halftime lead. With the Spartans gambling less on the blitz in the second half, Rudock completed 14 of 31 for 98 yards and an interception (a 65.26 pass efficiency). He finished with 5.2 yards a pass attempt, the lowest in his six games as starter by 1.7 yards.
When Iowa needed something to work, the passing game couldn't lift it. Granted, Michigan State knew Iowa had to pass, especially with a two-score deficit in the fourth quarter.
"It helps if you can run, it helps if you can pass," Rudock said. "That's all kind of a given."The answer likely is yes, this game will come down to whether or not Iowa will be able to run the ball.