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Why Iowa’s running game can’t take Northwestern for granted

[ 0 ] October 23, 2013 |

IOWA CITY, Ia. — Anyone who dismisses Northwestern’s football team as more artsy than ornery better do some number crunching.

The Wildcats don’t mind slogging it out in the trenches, and they’ve been noticeably belligerent in their last seven meetings with Iowa – allowing an average of 114.1 rushing yards a game and a 3.6 per carry.

“They tackle well,” Hawkeye running back Mark Weisman explained. “Defensively, they’re not finesse at all.

“They’re a tough team. Good linebackers. They come to play and they come to tackle.”

Kirk Ferentz said this week that Mark Weisman is full strength, and Iowa is developing depth at that position. (USA TODAY sports photo)

Kirk Ferentz said this week that Mark Weisman is full strength, and Iowa is developing depth at that position. (USA TODAY sports photo)

Saturday’s 11 a.m. showdown at Kinnick Stadium features a wounded Northwestern (hampered by injuries and a three-game losing streak) and a rebounding Iowa (averaging 196.4 rushing yards and 4.5 per carry).

Looks like the Hawkeyes have an edge, right?

Well, we’ve been fooled before.

“They won 10 games last year,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “That doesn’t happen by accident.”

Outsiders tend to base their impressions on glitzy highlights, three-step drops and Northwestern’s tradition of doing more with less.

But it was the Wildcats who handed Iowa its first loss in 2009, holding the Hawkeyes to 65 rushing yards and 2.4 per carry en route to a 17-10 win.

Even when the Hawkeyes were rolling in 2008, rushing for 169 yards, Northwestern knocked all-America running back Shonn Greene out early in the fourth quarter.

The Wildcats rallied to win 22-17.

“I’m not going to rate fairness of people’s perceptions,” Ferentz said. “But there are a lot of perceptions out there about a lot of things.

“The one thing you can say about them is, since the mid-’90s they do what it takes to win. They’ve done it several different ways, actually.”

The Hawkeyes are at their best when Weisman is burrowing through tacklers.

A foot injury limited him to seven carries against Michigan State, and Iowa finished with 23 rushing yards in a 26-14 loss.

Weisman regained some of his old form last weekend at Ohio State, rushing 10 times for 52 yards.

The Hawkeyes finished with a more respectable 130 yards on the ground (including 56 from Damon Bullock) and kept the Buckeyes off balance until the fourth quarter.

Ferentz said this week Weisman is full strength, and Iowa is developing depth at that position.

Bullock seems a little quicker each week. Jordan Canzeri is back from a serious knee injury. and freshman LeShun Daniels has 23 carries this season for 98 yards (an average of 4.3).

“We’ve got four backs that we feel good with,” Ferentz said. “You can only get so many carries per guy. We like (Daniels). Like to get Jordan in the mix at some point, too. It’s hard to do.”

The Wildcats are reeling a bit, allowing 169.4 rushing yards and 4.3 per carry. But in recent years, especially against Iowa, Northwestern has shown a knack for tipping the field in its favor.

“There’s no confidence that’s down in that room,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said after last week’s home loss to Minnesota. “There’s just disappointment that we’re not doing a good enough job to win. What do you do? You get up off the mat, and you keep swinging.”

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Category: Iowa Hawkeyes Football

About Andrew Logue: Andrew has been with the Des Moines Register for 19 years, covering everything from preps to Hawkeye and Cyclone sports, as well as the Drake Relays. View author profile.

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