Mark Weisman: The Most Important Hawkeye

David Purdy

How the least Greg Davis player on the field has become the unlikely link between the no-huddle and Ferentzball.

In the aftermath of last year's catastrophe, with Greg Davis still on the payroll, we wrote that Kirk Ferentz needed to stop imposing his antiquated notions of football success on the offense and let Davis be Davis. History showed that Greg Davis' offense has worked better when his team runs more than 75 snaps per game and fails miserably when limited to less than 65. Inherent in that argument was that Kirk Ferentz's run system, predicated on huge offensive lines and multiple tight ends, did not fit with the shotgun-heavy, tiny-wide-receiver-loving short passing scheme of Davis. It's hard not to give away your intentions when every run comes with a seven-man line and every pass comes from a four-wide formation. It was hard to imagine how those two could coexist, especially when Ferentz remained so anathema to the hurry-up offense.

Three games into the 2013 season, the Iowa no-huddle offense is alive and well. The Hawkeyes have run more than 80 plays in three consecutive games for the first time under Kirk Ferentz, and are 18th nationally in snaps per game. It's the fastest offense in the Big Ten at the moment, and it's working. Iowa is averaging more than 27 points per game, not an Oregon level of production but a significant improvement over last season, when Iowa scored 28 or more points just twice. The Hawkeyes had more yards from scrimmage in each of the campaign's first two games than they did in any 2012 contest.

It is ironic that the key to making this hurry-up system work has been, of all things, Mark Weisman. The former walk-on is first nationally in carries after a 35-rush, 145-yard performance against Iowa State. Weisman's 425 rushing yards are third in FBS football, while his 142 yards per game ranks seventh. This is the first season where an Iowa halfback has run for over 100 yards in each of the season's first three games since Shonn Greene in 2008.

The Greene comparisons should probably end there, of course. While he certainly can match Greene's punishing style, Weisman has neither the agility nor the top speed that Greene brought. We can imagine Weisman running over Frank Duong, but we cannot conceive of him spinning past him and running 75 yards with Purdue's secondary in pursuit. Weisman is a capable back, and a halfback whose style matches the Iowa offense well, but he's not going to be confused for a gamebreaker.

Yet Weisman is precisely what Iowa needed: A link between the Kirk Ferentz offense of the past with the Greg Davis no-huddle system of the present. Weisman's performances have allowed Iowa to run those 83 plays per game: He's durable, so there is little need for substitution. He's effective, so there is little need for the critical 3rd and long playcalling that usually slows Iowa's offense to a crawl. His running style (and the blocking pattern that works with it) are easily repeated, so that there isn't much question as to what Iowa should run. And the zone blocking scheme is strangely perfect for just such a system: Iowa can run stretch left five times and have it look different every time, with Weisman picking a different lane for each.

There is another important aspect of Weisman's style and effectiveness: It makes Iowa's offense appear slower. The Hawkeyes can run 80+ plays and not lose the hard-nosed, grinding persona that Ferentz is wont to preserve. And, with that preserved, Ferentz -- who took great pains this offseason to dampen any excitement about his permanent no-huddle offense by saying it was something Iowa could discard at any moment -- is happy to let Davis be Davis. In a game where the Hawkeyes took 85 snaps, they strung together two separate 15-play, seven minute touchdown drives where 14 of the 15 plays were runs. Somehow, Iowa has gone hurry-up and yet still managed to dominate time of possession (a generally irrelevant statistic that is nevertheless fundamental to Ferentzball) in its last two games. That's because of Weisman, because even a fast 1st and 10 leads to a fast 2nd and 4 leads to a fast 3rd and 1 leads to another set of downs, etc., etc. If the running game collapses, whether through injuries or ineffectiveness, and Iowa starts relying more heavily on Jake Rudock, the time of possession advantage will go away. The no-huddle will disappear soon after, and this budding sense of offensive purpose will vanish with it.

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