Iowa's by-committee running game spinning its wheels

Pat Harty
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Iowa running back Mark Weisman moves the ball against Ball State on Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — If Mark Weisman feels any frustration with how he is being used — or not being used — in Iowa's sputtering rushing attack this season, he's doing a good job of hiding it.

Weisman was asked on Tuesday if it was hard to get into a rhythm while having to share playing time with three or four other running backs. His statistics after two games would suggest that it is a problem.

Weisman has only 47 rushing yards on 16 carries heading into Saturday's game against Iowa State at Kinnick Stadium. That pales in comparison to last season, when Weisman had rushed for 280 yards on 50 carries after two games.

He stayed on a roll against the Cyclones in the third game last season, rushing for 145 yards on a whopping 35 carries during Iowa's 27-21 victory in Ames.

"I think you're more fresh when you're not getting as many carries," said Weisman, a 6-foot, 240-pound senior from Buffalo Grove, Ill. "You're not as much out of breath. But I don't know. It's hard to tell.

"Some people say they like getting into a groove. Some people say it won't matter. I don't think it really matters that much. You just have to be ready for your opportunity."

Weisman has led Iowa in rushing in each of the past two seasons, finishing with 975 yards on 227 carries last season and 815 yards on 159 carries in 2012.

This year, it's junior quarterback Jake Rudock who leads Iowa in rushing with 53 yards on 11 carries. Junior receiver Tevaun Smith is tied with sophomore running back LeShun Daniels as Iowa's fourth-leading rusher with 35 yards despite Smith having only one carry, while Daniels has 12.

Combine those statistics with the likelihood that star left tackle Brandon Scherff will miss Saturday's game State because of a knee injury, and there is reason to be concerned about Iowa's running game.

Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said after last Saturday's 17-13 victory over Ball State that his staff would take a hard look at why the running game was struggling.

"I'm sure coach Ferentz will get on that, and I'm sure the offensive line is ready to address that," Rudock said Tuesday. "Obviously, here at Iowa we like to run the ball. That's apparent. The five guys up front, we'll figure it out. We'll get it going and run the ball well."

Weisman is among five running backs for Iowa who have at least four rushing attempts in two games. His 16 carries lead the team, followed by Daniels and junior Jordan Canzeri with 12 apiece. Senior Damon Bullock has six carries, while redshirt freshman Jonathan Parker has four.

The by-committee approach is a dramatic shift from the previous two seasons, when Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis was criticized for relying too much on Weisman's bruising running style.

Weisman, who said he feels fresh this season, was slowed by injuries in each of the past two seasons.

As for the Iowa offensive linemen, they pay little attention to who lines up in the backfield.

"Sometimes, I don't even know who's in (at running back)," said junior guard Jordan Walsh. "Obviously, I know who scores on a play. But I don't know who's in sometimes."

Senior tackle Andrew Donnal said it really doesn't matter who plays running back because the blocking assignments don't change.

"Whether it's Mark or anyone," Donnal said, "we'll always be trying to do our job."