By Sam Kienzle
The Iowa football team had been averaging a hefty total of 12 points per game in its first two outings, a win over Northern Illinois and a 9-6 loss to rival Iowa State.
The Hawkeyes doubled their average and finally scored more touchdowns than field goals in a 27-16 win over Northern Iowa at Kinnick Stadium on Saturday. They would likely be happy just scoring touchdowns after Mike Meyer’s two field goals last week against the Cyclones were all the team could muster.
Meyer got his field goals again. The offense, though, finally cashed in some touchdowns, specifically walk-on fullback Mark Weisman–three times–deep in the Panther red zone. It only took injuries to Iowa’s first and second-string rushers to make Weisman the main attraction. Featured tailback Damon Bullock left the game with an undisclosed injury. Backup runner Greg Garmon appeared to injure his elbow and did not return. So, what to do? Put the next man in. In this case, a walk-on military academy transfer.
Weisman took advantage. On numerous rushes, the former Air Force cadet bouldered through wide-open spaces and powered hard at defenders. Weisman has no video game juke move or the steps of a spread-offense jitterbug. He’s an elevated train on feet, a point A to point B style of runner. It’s exactly what Iowa needed in the red zone. In addition to his three short-yardage touchdowns, Weisman rushed for 114 yards on 24 carries.
“He stepped up and did a heck of a job,” said Iowa offensive lineman Brandon Scherff, whose squad pushed away UNI’s smaller defensive line. “We tired them out. We did our job.”
The offense as a whole looked like a transformed group. James Vandenberg completed 18 of 28 passes for 228 yards, a handful to a streaking Kevonte Martin-Manley, who had 5 catches for 101 yards–including a 51 yarder. Before exiting the game with injuries, Bullock and Garmon combined for 91 yards on 16 carries.
Keenan Davis added 54 yards on 5 catches. The offense finished with 429 yards and 25 first downs.
Vandenberg still doesn’t have a touchdown pass this season, but he seemed energized by the team’s performance in post-game comments. “A lot of guys took a step forward today,” he said. Said Davis: “We scored. We’re happy.”
Northern Iowa made a game of it early on. The Panthers took their opening drive 83 yards on eight plays with wide-open catches from David Johnson and Brett LeMaster. Johnson ran in the ball from 1 yard out to give UNI 7-0 lead. They kept it close at halftime, trailing 17-13.
The Iowa players and coaches understood that Northern Iowa was going to be a load to handle, especially head coach Kirk Ferentz. “Their players are very well coached and they played extremely hard, and they have a good team, so we knew this was going to be a tough ballgame, and it was,” he said.
After the frenzied opening drive that gave UNI the lead, the defense tightened like a Boa Constrictor through the rest of the game. Tom Donatell pulled in an interception. The run defense stood up, holding the Panthers to 94 yards on 24 carries. Iowa forced a few three-and-outs while doing enough to push UNI’s coaches to opt for field goal attempts instead of confident fourth-down heaves at the end zone.
With the win, Iowa improves to 2-1. The Hawkeyes have two more home games in the next two weeks, hosting Central Michigan next Saturday and opening the Big Ten at home against Minesota on September 29th. Northern Iowa falls to 1-2, with both losses being to Big Ten teams (Wisconsin being the other).
“I’m pleased with our team and what they had to do in two of the last three weeks,” said Northern Iowa coach Mark Farley. “And as you can see, a Big Ten team is going to line up and just try to win the line of scrimmage and wear you down. And that’s kind of what happened.”