The Rosster: To live and die by the hammer

BY BEN ROSS | SEPTEMBER 16, 2013 5:00 AM

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AMES — After a bruising performance that featured 35 carries and 145 rushing yards from Mark Weisman, the junior running back said he didn’t mind playing the role of the lead pony in Iowa’s 27-21 win over Iowa State in the most recent installment of the Cy-Hawk football game.

“Obviously, you want the ball, but we definitely have a lot of good running backs,” Weisman said after the game. “Whoever has the hot hand, I guess, is going to be playing.”

Two other running backs were sprinkled into Iowa’s offense throughout the course of the game — Damon Bullock carried the ball 13 times for 50 yards, and Jordan Canzeri got three touches for 10 yards.

All season long, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has been preaching that he has four capable starting running backs, with true freshman LeShun Daniels Jr. rounding out the quartet.

But the stats tell a different story. Weisman now has 85 carries through three games, the most touches of any running back in the nation. He’s also third in the country with 425 rushing yards. The two backs ahead of Weisman in yards gained — Rutgers’ Paul James, and Badger running back Melvin Gordon (Gordon is a former Iowa commitment, by the way) — have 98 carries.

Iowa is going to ride Weisman to victory or die trying. The junior is on pace to carry the ball 336 times this year. To put that into perspective, Shonn Greene ran the ball 307 times for 1,850 yards in 2008, when the Iowa offense consisted largely of handing the ball off to Greene, then watching what happened.

And while Weisman likely is the toughest running back of the bunch, let’s not forget he missed a handful of games because of an ankle injury last season. With the number of carries he’s getting, I don’t see Weisman making it through a 12-game schedule, especially with Big Ten matchups right around the corner.

Iowa’s offensive line shows that it’s good enough to open up holes big enough for a tank to drive through, which means Weisman doesn’t need to be getting an astronomical number of carries for the Hawkeyes to find success on the ground.

Bullock always seems to be one shoelace tackle away from breaking the big one. The sample sizes for Canzeri and Daniels aren’t quite big enough yet, but they have been serviceable in spotty action in past games, and I am told they practice extremely well, so there’s that.

“As long as we win, it doesn’t really matter how many carries I get out there,” Weisman said after the win in Ames. “I’m just trying to help the team win anyway possible.”

Weisman’s running style calls for him to get brought to the ground every time he touches the ball — he’s not running away from anyone. That means he’s going to the turf and getting up 30-plus times a game. Which is a whole workout in itself, really.

Weisman said he didn’t have a sensation of crippling soreness or wear and tear following the game, but that it will likely be a different story on Sunday.

“I’ll feel it tomorrow,” he said.

Only time will tell if Weisman’s body can keep up with his current workload. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is spongy and bruised.

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