Iowa running back Mark Weisman is the third leading rusher in the country. Western Michigan has one of the worst rushing defenses in the country.
On paper, the game plan for the Iowa offense against the Broncos appears to be to run, run, run and run some more.
“I think Mark has proven himself to be a really good player,” Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. “He brings a real energy to our football team, but I think the other guys are good players too. We've just got to get them integrated in there a little bit.”
Weisman averages 141.7 rushing yards per game in the Hawkeyes’ first three games. He leads the country in attempts with 85 and has rushed for at least 100 yards in all three games.
But the rest of the Hawkeye tailbacks likely have smiles on their face this week as Iowa prepares to face a Western Michigan program that is 2-0 all-time against Iowa.
The Broncos (0-3) allowed 181 rushing yards to Michigan State in the season opener and things only got worse from there. Nicholls State ran through the Western Michigan defense for 222 rushing yards in Week 2. Northwestern beat the Broncos 38-17 and rushed for 332 yards in the victory.
Ferentz said don’t look into the previous games this year against the Broncos and just assume Iowa should be able to move the ball on the ground. He thinks the numbers are a bit skewed.
“Their middle game was just kind of one of those games where I don't know if there's an explanation for it,” Ferentz said. “They probably burned that tape and kept moving on as one of those deals. But they made it tough for their first opponent to run the football. Then last week you're playing an option team that is so dissimilar, their style of attack is so dissimilar to ours that it's kind of a little bit of a tough preparation for us right now. We're looking at the tapes trying to measure up with what they'll do against us because we look a little different than the teams they've played.”
The Hawkeye offense has leaned on Weisman in the first three weeks. The former walk-on is on pace for around 330 carries this season, but Iowa hopes to be able to use backups like Damon Bullock, Jordan Canzeri and true freshman LeShun Daniels moving forward.
The talented foursome should all get significant carries Saturday at Kinnick Stadium starting at 11:01 a.m. when the two teams meet for the third time.
“All three of those guys, I think, have earned our trust,” said Ferentz of Weisman, Bullock and Canzeri. “And we feel good about LeShun as well. As the season goes, we've got a lot of football left, so we'll need all four of those guys.”
The only change in the Iowa two-deep depth chart this week was sophomore Tevaun Smith moving past Don Shumpert as a starter at wide receiver. Shumpert has had issues with catching the ball in the first three games but remained the starter until this week. Shumpert likely will still play a lot of snaps on the offensive side of the ball.
The Iowa defense should be able to settle in against a Western Michigan offense that has only scored 30 points against the two previous Big Ten teams it has faced this year. Michigan State beat the Broncos 26-13 and Northwestern allowed 17 points. Nicholls State also beat the Broncos 27-23.
That also gives reason for the Iowa offensive line to look forward to Saturday. Offensive linemen tend to love running the ball and getting nasty in the trenches.
“Traditionally lines tend to like that,” said Ferentz. “They like the challenge of running the football. They like that a little bit. I think they like going forward. So that's a good thing. We're not letting them coach the team either, you know, but if it works -- anything that works -- we're going to keep doing it. I think you know that.”
P.J. Fleck is in his first season as Broncos head coach. Fleck, a Northern Illinois graduate, is the youngest coach in the FBS. He hopes to best the Hawkeyes for the third time in program history. Western Michigan beat Iowa, 27-21, in Kirk Ferentz’s second year in 2000 and then kept the Hawkeyes out of a bowl game in 2007 when the Broncos won 28-19 at Kinnick Stadium. The Hawkeyes ended up 3-9 in 2000 and 6-6 in 2007.
The game will kick off at 11:01 a.m. and will be seen on the Big Ten Network.