The Iowa football team should have waited one more week to break out the Throwback uniforms.
Because the Hawkeyes went old school offensively in beating the Northern Iowa Panthers, 27-16, at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.
Sophomore fullback Mark Weisman was thrust into a much bigger role after Iowa’s two tailbacks left with an injury, and the walk-on finished with 113 yards and three scores as the Hawkeyes gained 201 yards on the ground and had 429 total yards in the home victory.
“We got a win, which was the best thing that came out of today,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “The guys had a good week of practice and played hard. But we also found out that we have a lot still to work on.”
Sophomore Damon Bullock had 77 yards rushing at halftime but left the game in the third quarter with an apparent concussion. Freshman tailback Greg Garmon also averaged more than four yards per carry in his attempts but left the game with an arm injury.
Neither of them were able to return, which pushed Weisman to the forefront. And the former United States Air Force member passed his opening test with flying colors. He carried it 24 times and averaged 4.7 yards per carry, often making several Northern Iowa defenders to miss tackles on each carry.
“He was excited to be in there, and he told us to open up the holes and he would find a way to get through them,” Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff said. “He’s a hard-nosed player, and we were able to tire out Northern Iowa with a power running game. We improved in the red zone, too.”
The Hawkeyes did do that. Iowa (2-1) was 5-of-6 in the red zone and punched in three touchdowns, which was two more TDs than it had scored in the first two games combined. Weisman scored all three scores, while James Vandenberg was 18-for-28 with 228 yards through the air.
“Iowa did not take us lightly today and were ready to play,” said UNI defensive back Garrett Scott, who finished with nine tackles. “They did a great job of creating holes for their backs. (Weisman) was hard to bring down. We missed way too many tackles.”
Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley said he could tell very early in the game what the Hawkeyes’ gameplan was.
“They tried to rush the ball and win that part of the game,” Farley said. “We tried to do that, too. And just did not do it consistently enough. We came here to win, and played a strong first half. But we couldn’t sustain it in the second half.”
Just like last week against Iowa State, the Iowa defense allowed the Panthers to drive right down the field on their opening drive.
Sawyer Kollmorgen connected a few big pass plays on the drive and David Johnson did the rest on the ground, culminating the eight play, 80-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge.
But the Hawkeyes rallied with an impressive drive of their own and actually scored on their first three drives, adding another touchdown and one field in the first half. Northern
Iowa was down just 17-13 at halftime.
The Iowa defense eventually settled in for the third straight week. Northern Iowa managed just three points in the second half, and the Hawkeyes are yet to allow any points in the fourth quarter through the first three games.
Weisman’s 2-yard touchdown run and another field goal by Mike Meyer capped the Iowa scoring in the second half, and the Hawkeyes were able to bounce back from a disappointing performance against the Cyclones the week before.
“We were able to drive the ball down the field in our first drive in all three games, but in the first two games we settled for field goals,” Ferentz said. “Today, we got a TD and even scored 17 points in our first three drives. The line played well all day, and I think that will show up on film.”
Kollmorgen ended up with 245 passing yards, but the Panthers were held to less than 100 yards rushing in the loss.
Johnson, a native of Clinton, Iowa, was recruited by Iowa and wanted to be a Hawkeye, but no scholarship offer came. He may have shown he belonged on the same field as some of the Hawkeye running backs Saturday even though the Panthers lost. He finished with 77 rushing yards and 77 receiving yards on six catches.
Ferentz did not have much information about Bullock or Garmon other than neither were cleared to play after they left the game. Freshman Michael Malloy also was not available after missing several practices during the week with an illness.
“Damon was running well before he got hurt,” Ferentz said. “Mark was able to prove to us early in camp that he was going to be a capable blocker. Today, he proved he can do a lot more than that. The linemen feed off a guy with that kind of running style. They like blocking for guys like that.”
Weisman spent some time in the United States Air Force before electing to play college football. He came to Iowa last year but could not play because of transfer rules. He is still considered a walk-on as well.
“We don’t get a lot of out-of-state walk-ons, and you may have to talk to Coach Lester Erb to get more about where he came from, but I am glad he is here,” Ferentz said. “We will put him on scholarship in January and we told him that at the beginning of the year.”
The Iowa offense looked much better one week later after a bad performance against Iowa State last Saturday. The line allowed no sacks, and the passing game looks to be coming around.
Kevonte Martin-Manley had five catches for 101 yards and there plenty of completions down field in big spots.
Oh and then there’s that Weisman guy.
“The blocking was unbelievable out there,” Weisman said. “This was a total team effort. I just wanted to help my team out, and we talk all the time about the Next Man In. We have to be ready for it. I have confidence in myself, and I knew my teammates would help me out.”
Anthony Hitchens led the Iowa defense with 10 tackles, while James Morris had eight. Tom Donatell had seven tackles and another interception as well.
Iowa will next host Central Michigan at 11 a.m. on Saturday, while Northern Iowa continues to play on the road against Youngstown State at 6 p.m. Saturday.