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Coming through in the clutch

BY JACOB SHEYKO | OCTOBER 23, 2014 5:00 AM

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Mark Weisman won’t ever have the prettiest stat line. And that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who has followed the 6-foot, 240-pound fullback-turned-running back’s career at Iowa.

His game isn’t flashy. When Iowa is winning and Weisman is putting up rushing totals, he’s lauded as a bruiser. But when the team loses and Weisman is less than effective, he’s said to be too slow, and Iowa is criticized for not having a real playmaker tailback.

Behind these criticisms are his stats. And the two most-used against Weisman are his lack of explosive plays and his relatively low yards per carry.

Even though Weisman averages 3.8 yards per carry — 32nd in the Big Ten — numbers don’t account for how he is used. He might not be a fullback, but he’s still treated like one when Iowa faces short-yardage situations.

Let’s start by naming a crucial base number: 113, the number of times Weisman has carried the ball this season. That ranks seventh in the Big Ten. The conference leader in carries is Minnesota’s David Cobb at 189.

With that in mind, several factors play into Weisman’s low yards per carry average. The first is the number of times Weisman is used on third and short — or 1 to 3 yards.

This season, Weisman has 13 carries in third-and-short situations, the most of any Big Ten running back. He’s taken these 13 carries and turned them into 50 yards, a not-so-great 3.84 yards per carry.
What sticks out, though, is his conversion rate.

Of these 13 carries, eight went for first downs. Another carry was a touchdown. Essentially, Weisman got the desired yardage on nine of his 13 carries. 

Even more, Iowa has seen a large increase in fourth-down attempts this season from last.

The Hawkeyes have attempted 14 fourth downs this season, and converted 10 of them. Of these 14 fourth-down attempts, Weisman has carried the ball six times — the most carries of any Big Ten running back in such situations.

On all six carries, Weisman has either moved the chains or found the end zone.

That stat won’t show up in a typical box score. Instead, fans will see that on those carries, Weisman averaged just 2.5 yards per carry.

Finally, continuing the trend, Weisman has the most red-zone carries in the Big Ten, at 39. Next is Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah, who has 30 carries within the opponent’s 20-yard line.

Weisman averages just 2.25 yards per carry in the red zone. But 10 of those carries have been touchdowns, and another seven moved the chains.

So, why do these numbers matter? Situations can often play a huge factor on statistics. And that context routinely doesn’t rear its head.

In all of these situations — third and short, fourth down, and in the red zone — the field is essentially shortened. Opposing defenses expect a run on third or fourth-and-short. It helps, too, that Iowa’s quarterbacks rarely go over the top.

As such, defenses might put an extra defender in the box, or may be more likely to blitz — or, at the very least, bring safeties up for run support.

Point being, it’s usually tougher to run the ball. Opponents have less field to cover and often congest holes that the offense can find.

Instead of showing a running back with no big-play potential and a below average yards per carry, these stats show a running back put in situations with one goal in mind: get the first down or score.

And Weisman does just that more often than not.


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