At the end of Iowa's first drive of the game, a 60-yard touchdown drive where Iowa threw just one pass and Damon Bullock ran 8 times for 53 yards, I half-lamented the fact that the touchdown went not to the much-deserving Bullock but to his fullback, Mark Weisman.
How little I knew.
Iowa halfbacks did what Iowa halfbacks do: Damon Bullock took a hellacious hit and left walking sideways, and backup Greg Garmon injured his elbow, and suddenly it was the 235-lb. walk-on Weisman at halfback. He did not disappoint, registering 113 yards on 24 carries, adding another 2 touchdowns and coming just inches short of a fourth. It was the Iowa running game in general, and Weisman in particular, that won the day, racking up 204 yards and giving the Hawkeyes a 10-minute advantage in time of possession. Weisman did in in particularly satisfying fashion: quickly blasting through massive holes in the UNI front, never avoiding contact, running through gangs of Panther tacklers.
There is no word yet on the status Bullock and Garmon going forward, but even if both return soon, Weisman is going to be in play. At worst, he's a legitimate running threat at fullback. At best, he's the starting halfback, a blitz pickup machine and the thunder to Bullock and Garmon's lightning.
- Lost in the WEISMANIA was the fact that the passing game finally found its legs. The offensive line held up as well as it has all season, not allowing a sack and giving Vandenberg all day to get comfortable and throw the ball. And throw the ball he did. Vandenberg completed his first six attempts to set the tone and finished 18/28 for 228 yards. The receivers managed to cut the number of drops from 8 a week ago to just 2 yesterday. The extra time even let Vandenberg look downfield, hitting Kevonte Martin-Manley for 51 and looking exponentially more dangerous in the 10-20 yard passing game. More importantly, Vandenberg distributed the ball better than ever, completing passes to six different receivers.
- Phil Parker is doing work, people. Iowa has now allowed just one second-half touchdown in three games, and held the opposing offense under 125 yards in the second half, also for the third time. UNI went for 123 yards of offense and scored just 3 points after the half. That's halftime adjustments at work.
- On the other hand, UNI was the third opponent to score a touchdown in one of its first two possessions against Iowa this year. This week was particularly demoralizing, as UNI took the ball on the opening kickoff and covered 83 yards in just 8 plays, virtually unopposed. While the Hawkeye defense may be adjusting well, their preparation for the offensive script needs some work.
- Speaking of which, has anyone else noticed that teams are now gameplanning the coin flip against Iowa? Since Ferentz got here in 1999, he has taken the ball on the coin flip. Because almost every other coach would defer, it meant Iowa was virtually guaranteed to start the game on offense, lending an additional bit of stability to the team in scripting the first quarter. At one point, Iowa had started the game with the ball in something like 45 straight contests. This season, both Iowa State and UNI won the toss, and both took the ball. It was the second straight year that Rhoads has done that to Iowa.
- Anthony Hitchens has his limitations, especially in coverage, but he's as sure a tackler as Iowa's had at the weakside linebacker in some time (maybe since Greenway). He's on pace to record about a billion tackles this year (well, 145, but still).
- There are still obvious concerns. For one, the red zone offense is still a mess. Three times, Iowa had first and goal inside the UNI 10 yard line -- twice inside the 5 -- and failed to put the ball in the end zone. For another, the pass rush was practically nonexistent, allowing UNI QB Sawyer Kollmorgen to throw for 245 yards
- I know they're supposed to be almost FBS, but Northern Iowa is still Northern Iowa. Let's not put too much into this, but yesterday was the closest thing to a cohesive offensive strategy we've seen this season. Combine it with what is becoming a remarkably consistent defensive strategy of identifying and stopping opposition tendencies as the game progresses, and it's a start. This is still going to be a long season, but worries of a year of unimaginable pain are temporarily on hold.