Hawkeyes leaning on WeismanIowa fullback Mark Weisman (45) breaks a tackle by Missouri State's Tim Piccarreto, rear, during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, in Iowa City, Iowa. Weisman rushed for 180 yards as Iowa won 28-14. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) -- Iowa has done nearly everything it can think of spice up its offense. The once-conservative Hawkeyes have played no huddle, embraced the shotgun more than ever and have even given opponents the occasional spread look.
And yet through two games, Iowa's best play has been an old favorite.
Send a big back up the middle and dare defenses to stop him.
That player this season has been converted fullback Mark Weisman, a 236-pounder who has blossomed into the team's most consistent playmaker heading into Saturday's game at Iowa State (0-1).
Weisman is ninth nationally with 280 yards rushing - on a team-high 50 carries - and has reached the 100-yard plateau twice this season. He set a career high with 30 carries in last week's 28-14 win over Missouri State, finishing with 180 yards and two touchdowns.
''He's a physical running back. He breaks one or two tackles every time he touches the ball, and that's just going to open up the passing game, play action. The linebackers are going to have to respect the run,'' Iowa tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz said. ''It's a very valuable weapon.''
Weisman's play through a pair of games is also a reminder of what could have been a year ago for the Hawkeyes.
Had Weisman stayed healthy, Iowa might not have finished 2012 on a six-game tailspin.
Weisman ran for 100 yards in four straight games, and it was no coincidence that the Hawkeyes went 3-1 in those games. They also got their only Big Ten wins against Minnesota and Michigan State, as Weisman combined for 293 yards and two touchdowns.
Weisman's bruising running style is bound to put him at the risk of injuries though, and ankle and hip issues limited his effectiveness in the second half of 2012.
Weisman, a notorious workout fanatic, spent the offseason conditioning as a tailback rather than a fullback. He said he's been able to stay healthy so far.
"Having to run with the skill guys, they're pushing you even more. So yeah, it helped a little bit,'' Weisman said.
Weisman keyed a 296-yard game for the Hawkeyes last Saturday, which was Iowa's best rushing performance in eight years. Much of that success can be credited to the offensive line, which is also healthy after being devastated by injuries in 2012.
Weisman is much more comfortable following the lead of his line rather than trying to improvise, so he and his blockers must work in tandem for the yards to come.
''He's an outstanding football player and running back, and his numbers certainly back that up,'' Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads said. ''I remember a year ago, watching that offensive line, and knowing what the future held for them and how strong and powerful they were going to be - and that's showing up right now, and he's benefits from them. But he's a dang good football player.''
The plan for Iowa heading into 2013 was to spread its carries out among a number of Big Ten-ready backs.
But so far, half of those 100 attempts so far have gone to Weisman.
Fellow back Damon Bullock has 116 yards on 27 tries - but his 4.3 yards per attempts is far below Weisman's 5.6 yards a carry.
Jordan Canzeri has just five carries in his first season back from ACL surgery, and imposing freshman Leshun Daniels Jr. got the first six carries of his career last week.
But it'll be hard for the Hawkeyes to stray from Weisman if he continues to produce at the All-Big Ten-type level he's shown so far.
''We have four backs that we feel good about,'' Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. ''Things are kind of dictated by how the game goes. But Mark's doing a good job, and we're not surprised by that.''
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