IOWA CITY — Mark Weisman ran off the field severely biting through his lower lip.
He’s a fullback to the bone. The fullback code, apparently, is no smiling. Not even after you replace the top two running backs, rush for 113 yards and score three touchdowns. Not even when you changed the course of a game that your team desperately needed to win.
Weisman powered the Hawkeyes’ 27-16 victory over Northern Iowa with 146 total yards, helping Iowa (2-1) shake off last week’s bitter loss to Iowa State and energizing 70,585 fans Saturday at Kinnick Stadium.
Yes, it was a cheer for Weisman when the student section chanted “release the beast” in the fourth quarter.
No smile for Weisman, who trotted off the field after a quick TV interview, his face covered in the black rubber shards that make up the FieldTurf surface.
“That’s kind of my personality,” Weisman said. “It’s always work and work.”
That’s the fullback code.
Weisman, the sophomore transfer from the Air Force Academy, knows all about codes. He lost 25 pounds while going through boot camp at Air Force. About the 50th time he didn’t make his bed right and had it flipped on him, he decided the military life wasn’t for him.
“Every morning, he told me, you have to make your bed in a half-inch specification of what the Air Force bed has to be,” quarterback James Vandeberg said. “After the first two months of having his bed flipped over every morning, he thought that was enough of that.”
Now, this is a fun story for today against Northern Iowa (1-2), an FCS level team. The long-term viability of Weisman at running back is a bridge that may need to be crossed. Is he cut out of the mold of Stanford’s Toby Gerhart? Or is this a one-week story?
Sophomore Damon Bullock suffered a head injury in the first quarter after he went helmet-to-knee with a UNI defensive back. He had his helmet taken away immediately, which is the international sign for possible concussion. Bullock was off to the races, too. He had 13 rushes for 77 yards. His 27-yard burst to the UNI 7-yard line set up Iowa’s first TD, a 1-yard grunt by Weisman.
True freshman Greg Garmon took over. His third carry was his last for the day and we’ll see about the future. Garmon tried to catch himself before he hit the turf, but his right elbow bowed the wrong way and he went to the bench, where he sat with a ton of ice and a wrap on that area.
True freshman Michael Malloy, who coach Kirk Ferentz said will play at some point, missed the game with an illness. Sophomore Jordan Canzeri practiced this week and was in uniform and on the sidelines. He doesn’t look far from a return.
There were no specifics from Iowa on Bullock or Garmon. However, a possible concussion and a hyperextended elbow, respectively, makes them questionable next week against Central Michigan.
“We’ll just see where that goes,” Ferentz said. ‘That was unfortunate, obviously, and then both of them are moving around fine in the locker room, but I don’t know how far away we are there.”
Here’s the thing with Weisman, a 6-0, 235-pound walk-on from Buffalo Grove, Ill.; Iowa didn’t change anything with him at running back.
Offensive coordinator Greg Davis called inside and outside zone running plays. Iowa was aggressive in bursts and ran some play-action passes in the second half.
Weisman practiced at running back this week and, for the most part, much of camp. This wasn’t an emergency, so it’s hard to gauge Weisman’s long-term outlook.
“Juggernaut or the Sherman tank, he’s just got too much muscle on his body,” Vandenberg said. “Bullock and Garmon will bounce back, but Weisman is not a guy we’re afraid to have in there.”
The long-term viability of Iowa’s offense, as a whole, ticked upward. No one is fitting the Kinnick scoreboard for a triple digit, but the offensive line made a walk-on fullback into a potential Big Ten player of the week and Vandenberg found a comfort level with Keenan Davis and Kevonte Martin-Manley, both of whom caught five passes.
Iowa went from eight drops last week to three against UNI. The Hawkeyes scored on their first drive of the game and the second half. They also converted 9 of 14 third downs.
“We felt good about today, but it’s our job,” Davis said. “We’re supposed to do that. We’re not surprised, we’re not overly happy about what we did. We have a lot to work on.”
The takeaway, obviously, was Weisman, who’ll celebrate Rosh Hashanah today with a nasty scrape across his left eye that included a bruised eyelid.
That’s OK, he’s a fullback.
“It’s a fullback style,” Weisman said when asked about his straight-ahead view. “I play fullback, I’m not a running back. I just put my head down.”